5 Seattle Brands that Know Something About Innovation in Retail

No city in the world has been a petri dish for as many retailers that expanded nationally or internationally."

July 26, 2018

Jen Swanson

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This story appears in the July 2018 issue. Read the full story here. Click here for a free subscription.

No city in the world has been a petri dish for as many retailers that expanded nationally or internationally, says retail strategist Dick Outcalt of Seattles huge impact. Theories as to why abound, including concentration of discerning shoppers, high levels of education, tech adaptability, geography, and an influx of demanding newcomers.

Nordstrom
Famed for quality stock, customer service and a cadre of personal shoppers, the stores first innovation might have been its generous return policy, which set the tone for other retailers. More than a century later, the brand has emerged as a digital pioneer, with a steady incorporation of online shopping opportunities and even a chief innovation officer.

Costco
With a subscription service and capped margins that allow members to reap daily low prices, all the while driving impulse buys, Costco is more than a destination for bulk shopping. Along with a 91 percent renewal rate, Costcos membership model also yields important customer analytics, helping the wholesaler provide a more targeted shopping experience that in turn drives high stock prices and more than 600 stores worldwide.

Starbucks
Regardless of your opinion of the actual brew, its hard not to admire Starbucks ascension from modest beginnings into a global network of 27,000 sleek third-place cafes tailor made for work, study or just hanging out with coffee. Just as impressive are the brands digital innovations, including mobile ordering, rewards programs and a revamped email system. The company recently revealed plans to leverage artificial intelligence to offer guests an even more personalized experience based on their order histories.

Amazon
With competitive prices, Prime membership, one-click purchasing, cashless storefronts and Alexa, Amazon continues to change the way we work and live. Companies that havent already folded are struggling to keep up, incorporating digital strategies, e-commerce options and even other online brands. Its hard to pick just one innovation, so well stick with the most lasting: Almost every consumer now expects stores to provide them with options to shop from their sofas and get fast delivery right to their doors.

REI
The longtime outdoor lifestyle supplier is also an early pioneer of experiential retail, with an indoor climbing wall and trails to test bicycles and other custom gear. The co-op model doesnt hurt, either, not only because REIs 6 million members help shoulder the costs but also by fostering a loyal sense of community through workshops, camping trips and no-questions-asked returns. Recent digital innovations incorporate growing opportunity to interact with the brand online or offline for a holistic approach that manages to tick all the right boxes.