10 ideas worth stealing for 2023

Fresh takes on connecting with consumers, from revisiting RFID and rethinking partnerships to new payment options and sustainable sustainability
Sandy Smith
NRF Contributor
Fiona Soltes
NRF Contributor

Change is good. Good change is great. Our annual collection of ideas worth stealing rounds up new ways of enticing and engaging consumers, making the most of resources and doing some really creative stuff. Among the list, you might just find a feast for the eyes — or a boost for the spirit.

Reconceive and revive the department store

Can a department store really break out of the mold? If Wow Concept Madrid is any indication, absolutely. Opened in March 2022, the almost 60,000-square-foot multi-brand, multisensory space includes theatrical installations, digital integration and uniquely themed floors that feel as appropriate for an Instagram photo shoot as they do for shopping.

It’s located in an iconic former hotel, with various levels including the Tech Garage, with the latest in gaming and audiovisual systems; a Self-care Lab to “catch the latest in beauty and well-being”; the Fashion Hub, conceived as a “temporary and changeable garment”; the Fashion Hub II with an interactive floor and “luminous fiberoptic curtains”; the Urban District, a “technical, flexible and dynamic space” focused on “streetwear blending sport with lifestyle”; and Home Boulevard, a “feat of interior design” that allows guests to “peek through the windows of the stylish homes.”

Wow Concept was designed as an extension of the digital channel; shoppers can receive push notifications about the location of products, and interactive screens in changing rooms make recommendations. They can also add to their baskets and/or make purchases via app.

Wow Concept offers a variety of on-site “experiences,” including makeup master classes, personalization workshops, facial yoga, floral workshops and more. As Spanish businessman Dimas Gimeno, president and CEO, says: “If it exists and it’s cool, we want it here.” A second location is set to open later this year.

Revisit RFID

RFID — a technology gaining ground after being on retail’s radar for decades — might have found its niche at Uniqlo.

Uniqlo product tags

The retailer has added RFID technology in several ways: hangtags, shopping guides and self-checkout. The result is a faster checkout, plus benefits for the supply chain. The self-checkout can help trigger production of hot merchandise. And unlike other self-checkout versions, customers don’t need to scan the merchandise. The RFID tags are read by the bins in which the items are placed.

In the warehouse, Uniqlo’s RFID products have combined with automated material handling equipment to result in a 90% reduction in labor costs and increased production efficiency, shipping productivity and storage efficiency. For a fast-fashion retailer, this is invaluable.

As a vertical retailer, Uniqlo has a bit of an advantage, with the flexibility needed to make it happen. And it isn’t alone. Other retailers like H&M and Zara are deep into RFID; Fast Retailing Co. Ltd., the parent company of Uniqlo, has been embedding RFID chips into price tags for brands like Theory and Helmut Lang since 2017.

Other retailers shouldn’t sleep on this still-promising technology. The price is down while the accuracy is up, making it time to reimagine the opportunities that RFID offers.

Introduce dreamy new brand interactions

Luxury in New York? Sure. And privacy? Why not? RH (the brand previously known as Restoration Hardware) has opened RH Guesthouse New York, with just six guest rooms and three guest suites, a private rooftop garden and pool and dining terrace. It’s not a hotel. It’s an “integration of services, surfaces and spaces designed to erase the chaos of the outside world.”

RH Guesthouse New York

It’s also a way to allow fans to engage with the brand in a highly exclusive, memorable way. There’s a dining room, plus a champagne and caviar bar opening this year; Italian travertine daybeds alongside the 40-foot infinity pool; European oak walls, floors, ceilings and moldings; soundproof windows; in-room gyms; climate-controlled FreshBeds; and freshly stocked gourmet pantries. There’s no lobby, and no events; guests are asked to refrain from taking pics and posting online.

Privacy, notes RH Chairman and CEO Gary Friedman, is “the one thing everyone has given away on social media, and the one thing the internet has taken away, as you can access anyone online. We believe privacy is going to become a large and important market, and the RH Guesthouse has an opportunity to define that new market with an unseen-before level of design, quality and hospitality.”

The 500-square-foot guest rooms start at $2,200 a night; 1,100-square-foot suites start at $3,700. Friedman’s private residence occupies the entire top floor, and it’s also sometimes available for booking. RH Guesthouse is located in the historic Meatpacking District, where it occupies a “restored and reimagined” triangular loft building constructed in 1887.

Turn tossaways into products

When life gives you lemons … OK, so maybe not lemons. But what about other fruits? Spanish grocer Carrefour has found ways to turn its overripe produce — particularly oranges and tomatoes — into jam. It then puts those products back on the shelves in 9-ounce jars.

Sustainability in retail

Learn more about how retailers are utilizing sustainable practices.

This level of innovation is nothing new for the retailer, which turns leftover fish into soup stock and offers 25% discounts on not-so-perfect produce and day-old croissants and breads. It also replaced the expiration date on some of its store brands with a “best before” date, extending the life of products like yogurts, desserts, salads and hummus.

Of course, not every retailer has the makings of a good marmalade in its product line. But every retailer has the opportunity to find new ways to rescue items from the trash heap and find new lives for them.

It is no longer enough to simply recycle or reduce packaging as part of a sustainability effort. Carrefour proves it’s time for retailers to take a hard look at what they are wasting and why — and what can be done about it.

Gotham cannabis store

Accept an altered state of reality

Picture the inside of a cannabis store, and Gotham isn’t likely what comes to mind. The two-story retail shop, located in Manhattan’s East Village, has been billed as a concept store where “edgy” meets “luxury.” Founder Joanne Wilson, an angel investor with more than 140 companies in her investment portfolio, says Gotham is about changing the narrative around cannabis. That’s a still-developing story: Recreational cannabis is still illegal under federal law, though about 20 states allow sales of recreational cannabis.

Wilson hopes to open a couple more lower Manhattan locations. In the meantime, Gotham aims to expand the mind of consumers with related lifestyle products, CBD items and a high-end environment of minimalist design and custom millwork. It would be tempting for some to wonder if this type of retail might just go away if it’s not acknowledged. With increased awareness and cannabis usage — coupled with creative store concepts like these — that idea is likely to go up in smoke.

Take a longer look at sustainability

Still wondering whether sustainability is … sustainable? Blueland, the refill startup that appeared on “Shark Tank” in the fall of 2019, became profitable in 2022 and currently is available in Target and Costco.

Blueland products

Blueland’s eco-friendly cleaning products aim to eliminate single-use plastics. Its items include refill tablets for laundry, hand soaps, personal care and more, as well as “forever” bottles and tins. Blueland co-founder and CEO Sarah Paiji Yoo told Retail Dive that reaching profitability has been “a really exciting milestone.” There can often be a “trade-off between profits and prioritizing people and the planet,” she says. “My co-founder John (Mascari) and I, we’ve always believed that if we want to be able to make the best decision for the planet every time, the more financially successful and independent we are, the more our ability to do that will be insured.”

Blueland began as a direct-to-consumer brand but has continued to expand its retail presence. It announced a $20 million investment in February 2022, aimed at growing both its products and its presence. But financial independence has been the goal, Paiji Yoo told Retail Dive, as the company’s focus on sustainability doesn’t always align with the desires of outside capital. It might be time for a second look at sustainability, and additional insight into what’s apparently working.

Turn unexpected partners into friends

When marketing pros think outside the box, they can find themselves in a highwire act without a net. The results can crash and burn, or they can create a thrill. With the high potential upside, it’s no wonder that today’s marketers are coming up with creative ways to find new audiences.

Look no further than the pairing of Beekman 1802 and Jiffy Lube. The Beekmans have built a goat milk empire using innovative ideas, whether it’s an HGTV show, bringing their oh-so-cute goats to a shopping channel, or aligning with Jiffy Lube. Yes, Jiffy Lube.

Mountain Dew Hard

The product “basically gives you all the Glow — without the grease,” wrote Brad Farrell, Beekman 1802’s chief marketing officer, on LinkedIn. “After uncovering this true insight that anyone — even oily skin users — can finally use a facial oil without fear of grease (and a few-hour brainstorm session with our friends Movers+Shakers) the concept ‘Time for an Oil Change’ was born and who better to partner with for a completely unexpected Oil Change pop-up spa?”

Finding those unique partnerships doesn’t always mean pairing with another brand. When Hard MTN DEW launched its latest beverage for the over-21 crowd, it opted to do so in a Florida retirement village. The party, deemed the “Definitely Over 21” bash, intended to prove that “just because you’ve surpassed the legal drinking age doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun,” the company said in announcing the new Livewire flavor.

All of this goes to prove that if you’ve been doing marketing the same way for say, the last decade, it’s time to throw out the rules and look for new partners.

Rethink debit versus debt

When it comes to a new way to pay, there’s a Catch. The checkout payment processor Catch is enticing its users to whip out the debit card instead of opting for other payment types. When a buyer signs on to a favorite site like Freedom Moses and completes a purchase for that hot new pair of sandals, they’re offered a 10% savings for using Catch, which is linked to their debit card or bank account. The buyer accrues store credits for a future purchase.

This part is likely to get a merchant’s ear: The cash back incentive is only good at the same store in which the initial purchase was made.

Catch's Freedom Moses Sandals

It’s no wonder that Catch has reportedly doubled the number of direct-to-consumer brands it works with in the past year. The company also has reported hundreds of thousands of users. Retailers get a faster repurchase rate and an increased retention.

Urging purchasers to use their debit cards is in direct competition to buy now, pay later, an area that Catch co-founder and CEO Nico Perdomo knows well. Perdomo is a former product manager at Affirm, which offered insight into how young consumers want to avoid credit card debt.

Catch’s client base is young, for sure, and primarily female. That aligns with the brands that have signed up to date. The idea of rewarding young shoppers for paying now is a win-win. Shoppers can avoid credit card debt, while retailers can get them to come back to buy again.

If this effort continues to grow, it begs the question: How else might retailers reward consumers, without tying it all to the use of a credit card?

Be a good sport while staying on top of trends

USA Pickleball-Bruce Yeung

Strike while the pickleball is hot. This summer, New York City makes the most of the sport trend — and repurposes some prime real estate — by covering up the Wollman Skating Rink and converting it to 14 pickleball courts.

CityPickle, NYC’s first pickleball club, partnered with Pickleball United to provide an “elevated experience” for all New Yorkers. That means cabana parties, open play, clinics and court rentals. Courts at Wollman Rink will be available seven days a week, morning through evening, through early October, and range $80-$120 per hour.

Pickleball, a mashup of tennis, badminton and other racket/paddle sports, has caught fire thanks to its easy-to-learn format, accessibility, appeal for all ages and small courts. It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States — and bound to expand in New York this summer, too. Why not cash in on the opportunity, allow people to connect in unique ways and introduce a bit of fun and competition?

Get really personal with email

Retailers are always looking for new ways to use data to drive new purchases. Look no further than Sephora, which could teach a master class on new email marketing methods. Its loyalty program is often recognized as among the best and its FOMO-inducing reminders of abandoned cart items drive revenue; partner Socital reported that the brand decreased cart abandonment by 5.2% without incentives.


But this latest piece proves to be both helpful and successful. Sephora knows what a customer has purchased and the typical lifespan of that product. It ties the data together to send personalized reminders urging customers to restock that product, which should be about to run out. Customers can purchase directly from the email or set a calendar reminder for two weeks’ time. It also knows which customers have received what sample products and follows up with an email asking if they’re ready to commit to the full-sized version.

That level of personalized email marketing pays off. Socital reports a 142% increase in subscriber sales, thanks to the reminders and other personalized touches.

Retail has been casting about for one-to-one marketing for a long time now. Sephora proves it is possible — as well as beautifully lucrative.

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