9 April 2019 • Arie Verhoef
Future-Proof Retail: a new form of learning for retailers and students
The days would seem to be numbered for many brick-and-mortar retailers. Outside the major cities, the number of empty storefronts lining the shopping streets is growing. The trend is rather depressing. But the mood was cheerful at the Kennisfeest Future-Proof Retail, a knowledge event organised by the Innovation Networks research group at the Hague University of Applied Sciences’ Innovation Playground on Thursday 28 March. There, the reigning feeling was enthusiasm for a new ecosystem of learning aimed at retailers and students.
Consumers are no longer visiting physical shops for many of the products they buy. “Place your order by 11 this evening, and we guarantee delivery tomorrow!” It’s hard for brick-and-mortar retailers to compete with this based solely on price and service. The expectation is that a few years from now, 30 per cent of retail properties will be vacant. The retailers of the future will therefore need to continuously learn about combining online and offline sales, about the development of new business models and about how to meet people’s social need to ‘bump into’ one another in physical shops.
The Innovation Playground was teeming with representatives from retail organisations, municipalities, senior secondary vocational education and universities of applied sciences from all over the Netherlands. All of them are partners in the Future-Proof Retail research project, which is attempting – through various Living Labs, 11 in total – to help the Dutch retail sector cope with a rapidly-changing world. These partners are coming together to make the research visible, to gain inspiration and (most importantly) to share their experiences with one another. To talk about the initial results of their research, and to show how innovative forms of entrepreneurship can encourage shopkeepers to find new insights and a new style and vigour. Students play an essential role in the Living Labs that presented themselves and their work during the Kennisfeest knowledge event.
At the rear of the Innovation Playground, a ‘shopping street’ was recreated. In this ‘shopping street’, the six lab formats developed in the first phase of the project presented their efforts: the ‘EHBRetail Lab’ from THUAS; ‘Lab Traction’ from the Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen; ‘Storey’, a lab from the Haags Retailpunt; ‘Lab Fygital’ from Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences; the ‘HYPE Lab’ from TMO Fashion Business School in Delft; and ‘Instore Future Lab’ from the Retail Innovation Center in Roermond.
Anja Overdiek – senior researcher and Future-Proof Retail project leader – and alderman Armand van de Laar from the Municipality of Rijswijk (which joined the project with a lab in 2019) officially opened the ‘shopping street’ with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. They invited the attendees to take a first look around – but for the time being it was window shopping only, as it’s not possible to buy anything yet.
Pitching team captains
Following introductions, the Speakers’ Corner held a first round of workshops in which the six labs let the visitors experience what they do first-hand and showed them the ‘products’ or tool prototypes they have developed so far. After that, delegates – team captains – from the participating organisations provided reviews of the respective workshops they attended. Each lab was eager to have as many participants as possible in the second round of workshops and ‘sold’ vouchers for that purpose. During this second round, participants were able to buy the ‘products’ in the lab shops, all of which were initial results of the research. The workshop that received the most coins was the one the participants found most inspiring.
At the end of the afternoon, two winners were revealed: ‘Lab Fygital’ from Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, with a toolbox that provides insight into the ‘learning journey’ of retail entrepreneurs; and the ‘Storey’ lab for its booklet on ‘Local Retail Heroes’.
The Living Labs offer an innovative teaching format that is highly attractive to students. Joran van der Meer is a Communication & Multimedia Design (CMD) student at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. Joran says, “I think these Living Labs are a great way of teaching. As a student, they get you actively involved with what the entrepreneurs are doing, rather than passively sitting in a chair in some lecture hall. The Lab really boosts my interest in getting involved with my programme.”
As a part-time lecturer in the Entrepreneurship & Retail Management programme, Albert Coumans is actively involved in the EHBRetail Lab. According to Albert: “For me, this Kennisfeest event really underscores the fact that we need to step away from the traditional educational model. Our students deserve better. They learn a tremendous amount in these Living Labs; there’s a creative process taking place within each Lab. For our part, we supress the tendency to immediately provide solutions. Instead, we try to get multiple parties involved in that creative process.”
Handbook with tips
“Students do find this a bit tricky.” This is why Coumans has also created a handbook for the Kennisfeest, which contains tips on coaching students within the Living Lab setting. “It’s really them, the students, saying to an entrepreneur: We’re going to inspire you to run your business in a more innovative way. At this Kennisfeest knowledge event, we inspire one another to offer even more value to those entrepreneurs. I’m really quite pleased about that.”
Anja Overdiek – senior researcher and Future-Proof Retail project leader – and alderman Armand van de Laar from the Municipality of Rijswijk (which joined the project with a lab in 2019) officially open the ‘shopping street’.