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MediaMarktSaturn innovation chief: “Things we see as gimmicks today may be very important in the future”

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To lead “innovation” for a multinational consumer electronics company may sound like a daunting task, but since January 2018 this has been Martin Wild’s responsibility at MediaMarktSaturn.

There is an air of making up for lost time at the German retailer and Wild taking on the unusual title of chief innovation officer in January 2018 is part of this bid to get ahead of the pack. The company came late to the ecommerce arena, only launching its online proposition in 2011 due to ambivalence towards ecommerce in parts of the business.

Speaking to InternetRetailing, Wild says since 2011 the company has been “heavily investing in overtaking other players” and is now claiming the mantle as a trend-setter with regards to innovation.

“Being late is why we need to be leading in the next phase of omnichannel,” which Wild defines as “connecting the different channels to give the consumer the perception of talking to one brand.”

“If they want to buy, there cannot be differentiation if they use mobile, come to store or have someone from our company coming to their home,” he says.

As reflected by the change in Wild’s job title from chief digital officer to chief innovation officer, MediaMarktSaturn doesn’t view digitisation alone as enough.

“Even if you are fully digital if you don’t innovate you’ll be out of business in a matter of only a few years.”

There are all kinds of eye-catching technologies out there, so telling the difference between a gimmick and a genuine business-changing innovation is a task in itself. Wild says this requires a combination of caution and open-mindedness.

“We cannot predict the future. Things we only see as gimmicks today may be very important in the future,” Wild says, using the rapid proliferation of the smartphone in the late 2000s as an example.

Regarding innovation, the company differentiates between an early evaluation phase for new technologies and a wider roll-out in the business, he explains.

In the early stage, “we do not draft a business case; we try it out with consumers, we build a minimum viable product or pilot and show it to consumers. It is important to think outside of the box in the early phase.”

The application of the technology to either an internal business or a consumer problem comes later. A clear business case is needed to roll out the technology across the business.

“With this approach we can work in many different areas, some of them sometimes too early but at least we are in valuation stage, sometimes we learn it is a really great thing we have found and we try to roll it out as fast as possible.”

Beyond technology, Wild believes a retailer needs to offer more to consumers than simply the ability to buy goods, which he calls “being a partner to the customer”.

“In consumer electronics, we help consumers to find solutions to their problem. People might say they want a new smartphone, but they may want to take nice photos, so we can recommend the right one based on that.”

This allows the company to differentiate from the likes of Amazon, who Wild says “does very good business” but cannot compete with this kind of specialist expertise.

MediaMarktSaturn has empowered in-store staff with digital technology to allow them to better perform this consulting role. It has worked hard to bring this expertise online for consumers as well, including an ongoing project allowing customers on the site to video conference with in-store staff. In addition, in Germany the company has invested in its online content platform, which provides instructional videos on how to use products.

Online is still only around 13% of the company’s total sales, although Wild is certain that it will grow further. However, referencing the company’s omnichannel vision, he says the company doesn’t really care where customers make the purchase.

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