Innovations for the German Retail Trade

The ongoing digitalization of everyday life is a constant challenge for the economy in general and thus also for the retail trade. For years now, the trend has been to gear sales strategies to the needs of customers. The WHU graduate Nina Stöferle dealt with the greatest challenges and opportunities of the German retail industry in her Bachelor’s thesis "A Corporate Innovation Scan of the German Retail Industry".

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Her work aimed to identify not only these challenges but also programs to master them. In a third step, Stöferle examined how innovation measures can be successfully integrated into the company.  The greatest challenges proved to be the expectation of creating unique experiences and the increasing pressure to implement a "unified retailing" concept in the sense of digitalization, which completely aligns the purchasing process with the conditions of the consumer and provides a service that does not end at the point of purchase.

The establishment of internal innovation units and topic-specific competence centers, which tackle the realization of predefined topics, should be able to counteract these challenges. As Stöferle points out, digitization not only places demands on the retail trade but also offers the greatest opportunity to meet those. It enables the optimization of background processes and thus also of the customer experience.

In order to integrate innovation programs successfully into the corporate culture, an innovative mindset is required, which is promoted by flat hierarchies, flexibility, openness, and freedom. In certain cases, innovation units should be decentralized and thus have their budget, their team and the ability to make decisions. It is also helpful to promote mutual exchange between the innovation unit and the company via common interfaces. Last but not least, Stöferle pleads for the further expansion of 4G and 5G networks by policymakers.

The Bachelor’s thesis was supervised by Professor Dr. Dries Faems, Chair for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technological Transformation. Stöferle evaluated innovation practices of five of the largest and most successful German retailers. The data basis was provided by publicly available material on Otto, Metro, EDEKA, Lidl, and Fielmann as well as interviews with experts.