Hunting for Innovation and Other Words of Wisdom from the Shift Technology Summit

July 11, 2017

Two weeks ago, my colleagues and I attended and sponsored the first annual Shift Tech Summit hosted by Amber Engine and Reverie. As a company who endeavors to bring best-in-class technology and expertise to the furniture vertical, it was refreshing to see top brands—including Ford Motor Company, Pinterest, Microsoft, and more—join forces to apply ecommerce and innovation learnings to furniture.

The content was fantastic, conversations were enlightening and we left rejuvenated and excited for what’s to come in this ever-evolving industry.

Shift Technology Summit

Technology emphasizes the value shoppers place on time…

The rise of technology has brought to light the importance shoppers place on time-saving convenience. As Musa Tariq, Chief Creative Officer of Ford Motor Company, said, “Time is the one thing a customer cannot buy, so what are you doing to give your shoppers more time?” For Ford, a primary goal is to provide the shopper everything they need to make a purchase, getting them “in and out” of the shopping journey as quickly and painlessly as possible.

He noted the music industry’s response to Napster as a great example of an industry underestimating the power of convenience. The industry punished their consumers for using Napster, which they attributed to the desire to cheat the system and get free music. In reality, their customers were willing to pay for music (as evidenced by iTunes and Spotify), but at the time, Napster was providing a much more convenient way to attain music compared to what they were offering.

Pinterest was another company in attendance that noted time’s substantial worth to shoppers. Vikram Bhaskaran, Head of Strategic Partnerships, described Pinterest as a “service to get off of a service”—in other words, their goal is to give their users inspiration to go do the things they love to do.

…and you’re competing for their time and attention in a crowded arena.

In the furniture industry, we tend to be narrowly focused on comparing ourselves to each other. After all, this is such a unique industry and so there are many complexities that make us different from typical pick-pack-ship ecommerce.

But your furniture shoppers don’t understand these complexities and are not forgiving when it comes to judging the experiences you provide. In reality, they’re comparing your experience with every brand interaction they encounter on a daily basis. So when they’re shopping with you on mobile, you’re competing with the iPhone 7 user experience. When they’re browsing your content, you’re competing with content providers like Netflix. And when they’re shopping with you, your competitor is Amazon.

As Kira Wampler, CEO of put it, “delete the notion that shoppers expect a different experience on your site.” Just because furniture is different does not mean the shopper understands, nor do they care, that you need to provide a different experience. They want one that delivers the products to them in a fast, easy and seamless way.

Traditional retailers must commit to “hunting” for innovation and embrace failure

According to Jeremy Gutsche, keynote speaker and CEO of Trend Hunter, most of us are conditioned as “farmers” resistant to change. We use only what has worked in the past to avoid risk in the future, but the traps of being a farmer include complacency, repetition and protection.

Innovation requires a different type of commitment—one that involves a significant investment and learning curves. When it comes to technology and innovation, Gutsche suggests shedding our farmer tendencies and reverting back to the characteristics in line with our hunter instincts–insatiability, curiosity and willingness to destroy.

All of the speakers agreed that leaders who promote innovation must be comfortable with short term failure. When you’re doing something for the first time, you have to accept that failure will be a part of the process and embrace each experience, positive or negative, as a learning experience.

Tariq of Ford Motor Company detailed an example of embracing failure as head of social media at Burberry. The brand invested in a live stream of their fashion show—unprecedented at the time—with an ambitious goal of getting 1 million viewers to subscribe. When only a meager 6,000 viewers watched the stream, Tariq and his superiors were disappointed and ready to bail on the initiative all together. But when they took the disappointing results to the CEO, her response was much more forgiving. She noted this was the first time anyone has done live streaming and therefore can’t expect users to automatically tune in.

She followed up with a simple question. “What are you going to do next time to improve results?”

As an industry in flux with recent acquisitions and Amazon making big waves, it was a poignant moment for leaders inside and outside of the furniture industry to come together to bridge the gap between traditional retail and innovation. We are at the tip of an iceberg that will soon forever change the course of this industry. Traditional retailers have massive advantages in this space, but only if they commit to delivering an innovative experience that keeps up with shoppers’ high expectations.