I pulled into my neighborhood gas station, the same one I’ve been using for more than 2 years now, and slipped my credit card into the slot as I always do. As usual, I was asked to answer the same question about my zip code, whether I wanted a receipt, car wash, etc. Then it dawned on me, why doesn’t the gas station have software integrated into their system that recognizes me as a repeat customer? It should greet me by name, not ask for my zip code and know that I never get a car wash. That way I can save precious time at the pump and my customer experience would be that much more delightful.

Certainly there have been some great and notable innovations in the past decade including but not limited to the Web, electronic medical records, smart phones, drones, apps, biotechnology identifying DNA proteins and stem-cell therapies to treat disease, etc. And there are new and exciting innovations soon to launch. Like a microwave oven that accepts voice-over recipes, a washing machine that takes commands from a smartphone app and the NEST, a Wi-Fi enabled thermostat that connects your air conditioner to a smartphone.

But what about the “everyday” innovations from the merchants we do business with all the time. The dry cleaner, the diner, the grocery store, the movie theater, the car wash and gas stations. Where’s the innovations there?

Let’s be more like Ritz Carlton.

If you’ve ever stayed at a Ritz Carlton, you can’t help but admire their customer experience philosophy and brilliant execution, “Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” When a guest arrives by car to the hotel, the valet asks for a name. While the guest is walking into the hotel, the valet is using his communication device to notify the front desk that Mr. Dornfield in the navy blue blazer is arriving. And when I approach the front desk, I’m greeted by name, a refreshing and welcomed “tactic” that never fails to impress.
Yes, my local dry cleaner has my phone number in his computer which tells him how I like on my shirts starched and my pants pressed. This is a nice bonus and helps to speed up the transaction. They even have an Express Pouch program that lets customers drop off a bag of laundry into a 24-hour locked bin and retrieve the finished pieces anytime of day or night. But what about other retailers, restaurants, hospitals and the like? Where are their innovations?

Innovating the dressing room.

Neiman Marcus, one of a growing number of retailers who understands the power of the fitting room, has unveiled the Memory Mirror in its Walnut Creek, Calif., store. The Memory Mirror is located outside the fitting room — but still has an impact on what occurs inside. A shopper tries on an outfit in the fitting room, stands in front of the mirror and creates a video. When she tries on the next outfit or two, she can see herself in the varying looks side by side. She also can send out the video for that all-important social experience: feedback from her friends.

The technology also allows for efficiency. Like the story of a mother whose daughter was shopping for bridal-related clothing. They spent all their spare time coordinating trips to retailers to find the right looks. When the daughter tried on outfits and sent her mother images from the Memory Mirror, the shopping process became a lot easier for both as they no longer needed to coordinate schedules for joint shopping.

Innovating the supermarket.

Imagine a keg-equipped “beer bike” riding around the grocery store transporting beer to shoppers wheeling shopping carts equipped with cup holders to store their beer glasses. A brewmaster even peruses the store to select new ingredients for his next recipe.

Welcome to Whole Foods Market’s new Houston store, home to the Whole Foods Brewing Co., the retailer’s first-of-its-kind in-store microbrewery.
Even Amazon is innovating with drive-thru groceries. According to a recent report in the “Silicon Valley Business Journal,” Amazon.com is trying to bring a drive-through grocery store to Sunnyvale. Users would select groceries online, then pick them up at the brick-and-mortar location at 777 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road.

With all the marketing talk today about gaining market share, increasing share of wallet, and the like, I challenge merchants to innovate more. They might find that creating a unique selling proposition through innovation leads to a faster path of building brand equity and growing sales.