Innovative Retail Technologies

MAR-APR 2017

Innovative Retail Technologies (formerly Integrated Solutions For Retailers) is the premier source for innovative yet pragmatic technology solutions in the retail industry.

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prescriptive position — to head of the relatively free–wheeling Innovation Lab. He admits the Innovation Lab gig was a bit scary. " The position was much less directive," he explains. "It was a 'see what you can do and show us your stuff ' kind of gig, so there was a certain amount of pressure to perform. At the same time, it was very exciting to set my own course and determine if the business would react positively." Asked if he thought his computer science persona fit the role, Emmons is quick to defend his creative side. " This was a creative move, and I think it came to me because as enterprise architect, I was willing to think outside the box and question the how and why of some of the things we were doing," he says. He also drew inspiration from a seemingly unlikely mentor, former Neiman Marcus VP of Store Design and Visual Merchandising Ignaz Gorischek. "I worked with and for lots of smart IT people that I admired, and who helped set the direction of my career. But Ignaz taught me about form and the visual aspects of the luxury business that are so important at Neiman Marcus." While Gorischek has moved on to design consultancy CallisonRTKL, Emmons says that Gorischek's visual education and guidance, combined with his own tech background, inspired him to unlock his own creativity. " This is a much more high-profile position, which has taken some getting used to," admits Emmons. "I've always enjoyed public speaking, but I used to spend most of my time behind the curtains. That's all changed in the past few years, because Neiman Marcus is such an amazing brand and so many people are paying attention to our work." We've seen and covered the high- profile projects coming out of Neiman Marcus. But what exactly does Emmons' Innovation Lab work entail on a day-to-day basis? "Our charter is basically to discover ways to make information services better. Ultimately, we focused that effort on consumer-facing technology, because we didn't see enough of that going on in the IT world at the time," he says. "Not only would the customer-facing focus serve Neiman Marcus and its customers, it was a way for IT to get a better seat at the table with the rest of the business. It created a more collaborative relationship, where we were contributing to the cause proactively, as opposed to just taking orders." Emmons considers the lab itself a service to all Neiman Marcus associates, top to bottom. "Any associate in the enterprise could find themselves a potential partner in the lab at any time," he says. As for the work going on there, on any given day Emmons and company might be tinkering with a proof of concept, or discovering the ins and outs of any number of hardware devices on loan from the vendor community. He says that while his physical space is somewhat reminiscent of an Inspector Gadget-like lab, there are no scientists dashing around in lab coats. Sometimes, he says, his team is preparing presentations and reports of its findings on a specific problem for senior executives. Sometimes the lab is an education center for execs and associates alike. Sometimes it's a resource for a project team working on a deployment. And often, he says, there's nobody in the lab at all, because his team is out in the field doing its job. In fact, that's where I last caught up with Emmons — in the field. He was overseeing the implementation of some Innovation Lab-borne technology in Neiman Marcus' new Fort Worth, TX, store, a reincarnation of the merchant's third location ever built. The store is getting a fleet of 11 Memory Mirrors, digital directories, a ChargeItSpot charging station, brand-new fitting room alert technology designed to keep associates and customers connected while shoppers are trying on clothes, and a fun new jukebox of the future called Rockbot, which allows customers to choose their own in-store music from a playlist. Which of those initiatives will succeed and which of them will fail isn't Emmons' concern. "Failure is the wrong word. We've tried plenty of things that didn't ultimately stick, but we don't call any of them failures," he says. Instead, he calls them "learning experiences" and "pivot points" that can be shelved or spun up into something else. A case in point? That aforementioned "fling wall." A few years back, the Innovation Lab oversaw installation of a smart multiscreen digital signage array that allowed shoppers to wirelessly "fling" items from an iPad lookbook onto the wall of signage. It was dubbed the "fling wall," and Emmons and company thought it would be a fun and engaging exercise for customers and associates to play with. Senior management agreed. A pilot was funded and the wall was built. It was big and beautiful and it worked exactly as it was supposed to. But, says Emmons, nobody used it. " The wall gathered dust, so after a few months we turned it into a beautiful piece of dynamic digital signage and fed it with fresh content," he says. " There was no more flinging, but we learned a lot about custom digital signage in the process." Why didn't the fling wall work? Emmons makes no bones about it. "It didn't solve a problem for the customer. That's the common thread of successful innovation projects at Neiman Marcus," he says. "Implementing cool new technology for the sake of showing it off is fun, and it will have a life span, but it will be a short life span. To be truly successful, our projects need to do something better than the way it was done before, or they need to solve a problem." That, in a nutshell, is the practical definition of innovation. Failure is the wrong word. We've tried plenty of things that didn't ultimately stick, but we don't call any of them failures. Scott Emmons, head of the Innovation Lab, Neiman Marcus Mar-Apr 2017 30

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