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RICE 2023

4 Ways to Embrace Innovation From RICE 2023

With a pulse on what’s happening now and an eye to the future of retail, the 2023 Retail Innovations Expo and Conference brought together retailers, industry experts and vendors from across various retail verticals. The three-day RICE 2023 event included educational sessions, keynotes and panels, an expo hall with over 200 exhibitors and numerous networking opportunities. 

During the welcome session, Ari Peralta, event co-chair and CEO of Arigami, says retailers should be questioning what exactly innovation is and what it means for their business. 

“Today innovation in retail is not so much about campaigns but about world-building,” Peralta says. “Changing the paradigm is no easy business, but we need to evolve because as brands, we are engaging with peoples’ senses and we have the opportunity to increase their well-being.”

The event focused on four themes, including fostering loyalty through physical experiences, embracing the intersection of commerce and culture and unlocking new growth opportunities.

North American Hardware and Paint Association (NHPA) senior editor Lindsey Thompson was in Chicago for RICE 2023 and share four takeaways and innovation trends independent home improvement retailers should be paying attention to for their operations.

Strive to create remarkable customer experiences. 

Dan Gingiss, an international keynote speaker, says a remarkable customer experience can be your best marketing. Consumers are being inundated with content, much of which isn’t even relevant, so he advocates for focusing less on marketing and more on creating experiences. 

“What we need are more experiences, because experiences are what people remember, experiences are what people talk about and tell others about. That’s the best marketing we can have,” Gingiss says. “If our customers are telling other people about us, we don’t have to do as much sales and marketing. We don’t have to invest as much in that because our customers are helping us grow our business.”

As retailers figure out how to create those experiences, Gingiss offers what he has coined the “WISER” framework, encouraging retailers to be witty, immersive, shareable, extraordinary and responsive. Being witty is all about putting smiles on customers’ faces while being immersive is appealing to the five senses and emotions, Gingiss says. Retailers can create shareable and extraordinary moments by becoming a customer of their own business and seeing their operation the way their customers do, he says. And being responsive and being a part of the conversation about your company is key.  

Use analytics and insights to become customer-centric. 

Nikkia Reveillac, director of consumer insights for Netflix, says insights are the heart and soul of innovation and becoming what she calls “people-obsessed” and better able to serve your customers. 

Gathering data on your customers gives you direction on where to go next in terms of not only technology but marketing, inventory procurement and other operational factors. 

During her keynote, Reveillac shared a stat from Deloitte’s Becoming an Insight-Driven Organization survey that revealed of the 37% of companies in the survey with the strongest analytics cultures, 48% significantly exceeded their business goals in the previous 12 months. 

As you work toward becoming focused on your customers through insights, Reveillac says to start with what you can immediately observe, but don’t stop there—continue to dive deeper and be consistent with your research. Also, she recommends making gathering data and looking at analytics a priority with leadership to set the tone for the entire company. 

Look at the ways to emphasize what makes you unique. 

Known better as Johnny Cupcakes and the founder of the world’s first T-shirt bakery with the same name, Johnny Earle is known for helping other people create blueprints for building brand loyalty, creating memorable experiences and inspiring innovation. 

“Everything in the world has been done before, so it’s all about how you do things differently,” Earle says. 

He says to make a list of the 12 ways your company is unique and focus on those aspects of your business. Every day at his stores, he utilizes four simple tricks that increase traffic and set his stores apart: put out balloons, play outdoor music, place a sandwich board out front and prop the front door open. 

As you’re figuring out what makes you unique and what works and doesn’t work for your business, Earle says it’s important to fail and fail fast. 

“Failures are just a part of experimenting, and experimenting is how we grow,” Earle says. “It’s also helpful to learn to ask for help in the areas where you lack strength and efficiency.”

Be patient with technology. 

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and technology won’t automatically change your business for the better overnight. Innovation requires a commitment and a willingness to fail and learn from those failures. 

“Most technology is not made by someone in your industry, so it doesn’t necessarily fit your mold, but it does fit your customer’s mold,” says Geoff Alexander, president and CEO of Wow Bao, a chain of fast-service Asian street food restaurants. 

He says it’s important to be patient with yourself and with your employees as they learn to adjust to any new technologies. 

Along with gaining educational insights, attendees could meet and learn more about the vendors bringing innovations into stores in every retail vertical. Here are a few from the event to keep an eye out for:

  • Poplar: An API-enabled programmatic platform that empowers brands to create fully dynamic, personalized direct mail campaigns.
  • MessageBird: Application software and APIs to automate and personalize every touchpoint with your customer across SMS, Voice & WhatsApp.
  • Kigo: Offering engagement possibilities through new forms of rewards, recognition and connected experiences enabled by blockchain.
  • 4R Systems: Using prescriptive analytics solutions, they leverage AI strategies that help businesses optimize supply chain and merchandising decisions.
  • Zinrelo: An enterprise-grade, SaaS-based loyalty platform that helps brands launch holistic rewards programs.

About Lindsey Thompson

Lindsey joined the NHPA staff in 2021 as an associate editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. A native of Ohio, Lindsey earned a B.S. in journalism and minors in business and sociology from Ohio University. She loves spending time with her husband, two kids, two cats and one dog, as well as doing DIY projects around the house, going to concerts, boating and cheering on the Cleveland Indians.

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