10 ideas worth stealing for 2020

From rethinking customer experience to teaching kids to code, get inspired by these fresh ways to engage your audience
Sandy Smith
Fiona Soltes

As 2020 speeds on by, this second month of the year appears to have much news of second chances. Brands and retailers alike are finding new ways of recycling, upcycling, reusing, revisiting and more — all in the name of meeting consumer needs and expectations and continuing to inspire loyalty. There’s word, too, of expanding to younger and older audiences — as well as creating rich, relevant experiences for any age in between.

The latest ideas worth stealing are worth exploring again — and again.

Provide an experience like none other

Keeping customers engaged — and coming back — is vital to physical retail. While it might be tempting to think that bigger is better, it’s not always so, says retail design firm FRCH Nelson, which recently completed several new experiences for American Girl.

“Consumers become more engaged when brands connect with them on an emotional level,” says FRCH Nelson’s Robyn Novak, vice president and managing creative director. “It becomes more than a transaction.”

To engage American Girl doll owners, FRCH Nelson created a Doll Hospital where dolls can get a limb tightening (or replacement), among other procedures. Along the way, girls are educated about how to care for themselves and develop healthy habits — all in a fairly tight floor space.

When all of that comes together, the result is an experience that customers can talk about after they leave the store — and one that will keep them coming back when their doll needs a little more attention.

Put products to the test

Canada Goose products in The Journey

For anyone who has experienced winter in the northernmost parts of Canada, a Canada Goose jacket is worth every penny of its $1,000 price tag. But getting others to plunk down that kind of cash without encountering brutal subzero temperatures takes some convincing.

To make its case, the company opened The Journey, an experiential store in Toronto where fresh snow falls inside its walls. After donning a Canada Goose parka, visitors walk through an icy crevasse entryway before ending in a 10-degree room with snow all around and original nature films showing on the surrounding video walls.

The room changes with the seasons; the ice beneath the floor will begin to thaw and landscapes will shift.

It’s all designed to unthaw a tight grip on the wallet. The Journey has no products on site; customers make purchases at a digital kiosk and items are delivered by the next day, with some locations getting same-day service.

Sometimes customers have to see — or wear — something to believe it. The Journey offers a way to do that while having a really, ahem, cool experience.

Provide a solution for consumers’ biggest concerns

woman in Adidas recycled hoodie

There’s no doubt that fast fashion has a bit of a bad reputation, particularly with environmentally conscious consumers. Now an innovative new process is tackling one issue — making cotton clothing more recyclable. Evrnu’s recycling technology uses a chemical process to break materials down before rebuilding them into yarn that’s mixed with new fibers and woven into cloth.

Evrnu licenses the technology to garment factories; Adidas and Stella McCartney are the first to make old cotton new again with a limited-edition Adidas by Stella McCartney sweatshirt, the Infinite Hoodie. Adidas is all in on reducing the environmental impact of its products: The company says in 2020 more than half of the polyester used in its products will come from recycled waste. By 2024, it expects to be at 100 percent.

Patagonia is hitting the same consumer with a different approach, opening its first pop-up Worn Wear store in Boulder, Colo. The pop-up includes Patagonia products the company repurchased from consumers as well as items from its upcycled line, ReCrafted Collection.

Other retailers certainly play in this category, with a number selling secondhand clothing or buying back gently used merchandise. As millennials and Gen Z make up more of the marketplace, it’s clear that retailers will have to continue providing solutions for the environmental impact of fashion.

Embrace lifestyle beyond the brand

Direct-to-consumer bedding and bath purveyor Brooklinen has expanded its outlook — and the options for consumers — with its new Spaces by Brooklinen marketplace. The online concept includes more than 100 products from a dozen brands with aligned aesthetics: Shoppers can find everything they need for room styles like Earthy Minimalist and Modern Glam, with art, furniture, lighting, décor and more from brands including Recreation Center, Wit & Delight and Floyd.

Brooklinen calls Spaces “the simplest way to find stuff you love for your home.” It’s a bold move that just might help the company and its customers rest easy. After all, who isn’t looking for some sort of influencer these days? Brands can step into that role every bit as easily as anyone else with new opportunities to monetize, grow and deepen the sense of community within their audiences.

Raise the bar for competitors

several examples of Allbirds sneakers

Competition in business can be cutthroat. When a behemoth like Amazon sets its sights on your niche, you have a few options: fold and go home, fight to the finish or raise a moral cry.

When Amazon began selling a product that looked a lot like Allbirds sneakers, CEO Joey Zwillinger opted for the moral high road. In an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Zwillinger urged Amazon to copy Allbirds fully — down to its environmentally friendly products. Zwillinger even doubled down, offering to send a sample of the company’s sugar-based SweetFoam or connect Amazon with its supplier.

The reason: Allbirds believes its source materials are better for the environment and Zwillinger’s approach is a win either way. If Amazon adopts the strategy, Allbirds believes it will benefit from lower material costs. If it doesn’t, Allbirds maintains the high ground — and an important product differentiator.

Rethink the mall

The Dayton's Project food hall entrance

Retail’s revival might just be in urban core areas, with two high-profile projects — in Boston and Minneapolis — showing the opportunities that await.

In Minneapolis, a former Dayton’s department store has been reimagined as a home for luxury retail and a chef-driven food hall. It also includes office space and is connected to the city’s pedestrian Skyway. Due to open in the spring, The Dayton’s Project will pay homage to its previous life, restoring features like Art Deco bathrooms; the design team worked to secure the building’s place on the National Register of Historic Places.

In Boston, a series of rundown waterfront warehouses in the Seaport district were razed and rebuilt as a mixed-use development that has revived an entire area. Early tenants include digital natives like Away, b8ta and Warby Parker.

Physical retail has a bright future if it can shake the old way of doing things. In their heyday, malls were dominated by retail establishments with a handful of entertainment venues thrown in. These days, retail must position itself as an important part of a greater whole. Retailers must be willing to embrace these innovative projects — even if it means rethinking decades of practice.

Tap into the availability — and the needs — of the senior market

McDonald's front counter

McDonald’s is partnering with nonprofit AARP to employ 250,000 older workers this summer. The fast food chain is not only posting jobs on AARP’s online job board; it’s also trying out a job-match service for seniors in a handful of states.

Trendwatching highlighted the partnership as a signal of some “powerful, underlying shifts.” Namely, older consumers are getting the attention they deserve — but baby boomers also need the cash. Northwestern Mutual recently reported that 33 percent of those in that age group had $25,000 or less in retirement savings. It’s time, Trendwatching says, for “assisted development” in the vein of products, services and experiences to help older consumers. Enlightened brands “will see this as a chance to do some genuine good, and soak up the kudos that will result.”

A tailor-made solution to fit

San Francisco jeans startup Unspun — which carries no inventory and custom-builds jeans for each customer — has been catching the attention of more than just consumers. Unspun incorporates Fit3D body scans for the perfect pair; it’s also working on 3D weaving to cut down on waste in the production process.

In late 2019, H&M Group announced it had partnered with Unspun to figure out what customers might want from custom-made denim, how those customers found the made-to-order experience and how ready the technology was to make it happen.

The retailer invited 100 customers to try the technology and provide feedback. After being body-scanned, customers could design a unique pair of jeans, which were created and delivered within 10 days. Customers returned for a fitting after delivery to determine whether they liked the fit and comfort level.

The results? An 80 percent satisfaction rate, higher than H&M had hoped. With insights like these, reductions in overstocks and unsold inventory might be on the horizon.

Creatively recycle appropriate ideas

Honda ad screenshot

BMW and Honda have jumped on the repurposing bandwagon by featuring clips from past ads and campaigns in new commercials. With BMW, actor Chris Pine talks about how the brand saved a little cash by using recycled clips — just as consumers can with a certified previously owned BMW.

Honda didn’t use its own clips; rather, it repurposed ads from other brands such as POM Wonderful to highlight its certified pre-owned vehicles. The campaign is in line with the automaker’s recycling efforts overall: In 2008, Honda set on a path toward virtually zero waste to landfills for its North American manufacturing operations related to auto, powersports and power equipment. A number of end-of-life recycling and collection methods have diverted millions of pounds from landfills, and many of the company’s 2019 vehicles feature materials created through the reuse or recycling of other products.

A good message, after all, always bears repeating.

Address a global need, create a winner

kids playing with Mochi robot

With the rise of coding as a fundamental skill, there’s no such thing as “too young” to learn to code. The Mochi system uses toys to teach computational logic and critical thinking to children ages three to six. Introduced through Kickstarter last year, it more than quadrupled its $50,000 goal.

The screenless, LEGO-compatible toy is helmed by a stuffed bear, surrounded by a series of adventure storybooks, a wooden programming board with creative coding blocks, a story map and more. Children can use the coding blocks and board to send messages to Mochi’s robotic vehicle so it can travel through the story map. The books include a variety of situations and the robot vehicle can be customized with LEGOs and other traditional craft materials.

Beyond teaching a valuable skill, Mochi appeals to parents who are looking to strengthen their child’s STEM foundation without being attached to a device.

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