Innovation is essential to success and should not be stifled in recessionary times, according to retailers speaking at the World Retail Congress.

La Rinascente chief executive Vittorio Radice said: “To come successfully out of the recession there is a need to take risk. You may not have the means to do it but there is a need to do it.”

Estée Lauder global president John Demsey said: “Give yourself permission to fail. Most great ideas involve a certain degree of educated high level risk.”

Disney Consumer Products chairman Andy Mooney added: “The very best companies have the ability to be very competitive and make incremental gains. If the company has the ability to experiment with those ideas and is willing to fail you get the best of both worlds.”

Mooney said that a commitment to innovation from the highest level was essential to achieve a balance between ideas and commercial viability.
He added that “having a foot in the retail business… is vital” to gauge customer response to brands.

In order to innovate retailers should look back to their heritage, said Demsey. “Every brand is successful from the beginning because it has a unique DNA,” he said. ” You have to go back to why you are successful and contemporise it. More often than not the answer is sitting in the room and in the archives.”

All three retailers agreed that it was possible to innovate during a recession and not alienate an established customer.

Mooney said: “To create the emotional bridge between the customer, whether an old or new one, you have to give them what they want and what they didn’t even know they wanted.”

Demsey said that the advent of technology and social networking presented “unique” opportunities for product innovation.
He added: “The most innovative times in fashion and music have taken place in dire financial situations.”