Macy’s head of digital tech and founder of Macy’s Labs, Yasir Anwar, reveals how he views innovation in today’s disruptive retail landscape.

How do you foster a culture of innovation at Macy’s?

Macy’s Labs has been an instrumental tool, or platform, to change our culture of innovation across the business.

Every retailer these days is talking about Labs, in some shape or form. Through our Lab programme, we’ve created an elaborate pipeline of innovation by thinking about how best to source ideas and deploy these ideas to the benefit of the customer.

At what speed can you deploy ideas via Macy’s Labs?

When I joined Macy’s three years’ ago, the timeline of idea to implementation – deployed to the customer – was more than one year. Now it’s just one month.

Has Macy’s embraced a ‘fail fast’ attitude towards innovation in order to reduce the time to customer?

‘Fail fast’ and ‘fail cheap’ are terms I hear a lot across the industry. I prefer ‘learn fast’.

The only way to compete in today’s world of disruption is to learn faster than others – learn faster than your rivals. The Macy’s Labs acts as a medium that allows us to learn from our customers, in order to be one step ahead of our competition.

“The only way to compete in today’s world of disruption is to learn faster than others – learn faster than your rivals”

Yasir Anwar, Macy’s

We have adopted quarterly cycles of innovation at Macy’s, in which we challenge employees to come up with fresh ideas. These ideas are then put to the wider business through a social forum and employees can ‘like’ the ideas they find most compelling and relevant.

I then sit down with the Head of Product Management to select the three best ideas.

The owners of these ideas then present, each for 10 minutes, to an executive committee – the members of which vote in real time on their smartphone as to which idea they think is the most relevant. That’s the initial ideation process.

Are employees rewarded for their contributions?

The winner of each cycle gets $5,000 as an ‘idea champion’ – a worthwhile reward.

How are these ideas turned into practical solutions?

The winning ideas go into an ideation cycle of two weeks, where people within the business from different job functions come together in order to shape the idea into something that can be rolled out to the customer.

If deemed relevant after the two week cycle, we’ll turn the idea into what we call a ‘lean start-up’ – this sits within our Lab programme. In 2014, we had just one lean start-up. Last year, the number was 12 and this year we expect to manage 18 lean start-ups.

Finally, what is the most exciting aspect about working in retail?

People. And being able to interact with them as well as influence their behaviour. I think that’s important and exciting.