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Over the coming weeks we’re going to be highlighting the nominees in the 2014 Internet Retailing Awards. Today we focus on the Innovation Award.

This year’s Innovation Award was fiercely contested. No fewer than seven retailers were nominated for this award, sponsored by dotMailer , and which aims to celebrate retailers who have changed the industry with their innovation.

Our judges were looking for, in the words of Internet Retailing editor-in-chief Ian Jindal, who chaired the judging panel: “Not newness for newness’ sake, but rather inventive and inspiring solutions for problems or the creation of new opportunities.” In making their decision they were reminded that: “The winner of this Award will have shaken something that needed disrupting, seen something that was obvious once their genius had made it clear, or so improved a business that it has created a new genre, a new mode of business or even a new verb!”

The criteria asked that the nominees should be retailers that had launched a novel, distinctive and well-executed service or product, who had changed best practice, and had made their innovation distinctive and unique while also ensuring that it was commercial and sustainable.

Our judges, who hail from across the industry, have now narrowed those seven down to four: Argos, House of Fraser, Marks and Spencer, and Tesco.

Argos was nominated for a digital transformation that has so far seen the business move from a ‘sheds with catalogues’ operation to a digital-first experience in which 44% of its £4bn sales take place online (and 18% via mobile devices). Its new digital-based stores have the click and collect services that Argos pioneered at their heart, while in-store tablets serve not only the 55% of shoppers who are digital shoppers, but let the others know what digital shopping could mean for them. Argos’ innovation, however, is not just visible to the naked eye – the company has also invested in tech labs over its Victoria store for speedy testing of ideas, and in introducing a hub-and-spoke logistics capability.

House of Fraser won its nomination for behind the scenes improvements that delivered a 57% increase in sales via digital channels and record trading at Christmas 2013. Those improvements include a mobile-first approach that puts responsive design at its heart, digital stores where customers can place and take delivery of their orders, as well as innovations in digital interfaces that support their brand experience.

Marks and Spencer unveiled its new dot com platform on time and on budget earlier this February, after what’s been the largest IT and ecommerce investment known in the industry. The new platform repositions M& for a multichannel world, and also comes alongside investment in infrastructure that includes a new ecommerce and stores warehouse, new stores, from Cheshire to Amsterdam, that have digital at their centre, and the integration of to bring big data to bear in style advice. M&S also has its lab, where new innovations are developed and added to its website in a spirit of continuous improvement.

Finally, supermarket Tesco won its nomination for the breadth of its innovations. It’s launched its own tablet, the Hudl, brought innovation to click and collect not only through scale – shoppers can now collect non-grocery items through 1,750 stores – but through its ability to service the 50 or so third-party vendors who sell via Tesco marketplace.

Tesco has also cut the cost of multichannel delivery, and redeveloped the way it uses its loyalty programme, with smart offers that include Clubcard FuelSave.

The overall winner of this award will be announced at the annual awards party, to be held at One Mayfair on June 26.

Chris Boddice, of award sponsor dotMailer, said: “We believe that innovation is what drives a business forward, what makes working in a business fun and one of the things that makes a customer care about a business. Innovation can only come from understanding a need and finding a new solution – an approach that has been at the heart of dotMailer’s success and why we’re so happy to be sponsors of this award.”

A reminder too that voting is open for the overall Internet Retailing Award 2014, sponsored by Venda . This is our readers’ award, chosen by you. Vote and your name will go into the draw for a free ticket to the awards party. Click here to cast your vote.

The full list of nominees is here, and we’ll be exploring the other categories in the run-up to the awards.

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