Product Innovation : Your Idea - When Have You Developed It Far Enough?

The arrival of the high-tech supermarket trolley provides some insight into the process of idea development and the importance of optimising a proposition before launch.

It's 15 years since supermarket trolleys were first identified as an area of business opportunity and ripe for innovation. Trolley advertising was born - remember those printed cards that were carried on a slot in the trolley?

It was low-tech. Was it a success? Well, we have no data on the revenues that supermarkets achieved through selling this space. But judging by that most unscientific of data sources - our collective memory - this was media space that could not always be sold.

Should this first trolley innovation have been brought to market? Our view is yes and no.

Yes - the identification of the trolley as media space was important and paved the way for further development.

No - the trolley development was low-tech, but even so, with a bit more development it could have been more successful.

Any new product is a balance of technology, cost and features to meet customer needs and wants. On initial inspection the low-tech trolley is a balance of low level technology, low cost and low features.

However, with the benefit of hindsight and by comparing it with the new high-tech trolley - high-tech, high cost and high level of features, we can now see that there was a failure to develop the low-tech version sufficiently.

The low-tech version only offered features that met the needs of the retailer. It provided them with potential advertising revenues. For the shopper, there was little benefit - only the advertising. And there it was – advertising for a single product for the duration of this, and probably the next shopping trip too. The advertised product may or may not have been relevant to the shopper.

This new high-tech trolley is very different. Of course, what we hear about are the high-tech features, but far more important for its success are the total array of benefits and who they are for.

For the retailer the trolley brings screen-based multimedia advertising. The retailers will be able to command premium media rates. The trolley also collects data about the shopper's journey through the store - useful stuff for the retailer's marketing teams.

The breakthrough is that the new trolley also benefits the shopper. The wi-fi enabled positioning system helps shoppers to orientate themselves in the store. (Particularly important considering the number of store refurbishments and seasonal changes to layout these days.) It also provides the shopper with diet information and communicates promotions, including where special packs can be found.

So, finally now the shopper gets 'trolley benefits' The question is why not before?

But we needed the wi-fi and the screen technology in order to deliver these shopper benefits didn't we?

Not necessarily! The real problem with the earlier version was not that it was low-tech. Rather it completely ignored the needs of the shopper. By continuing the development process a little further, benefits could have been provided for the shopper on the low-tech trolley too.

For example, the low-tech equivalent of the wi-fi positioning system would be, quite simply, a map. (Useful, even in low-tech format for the reasons outlined above)

Getting to the idea of the map, could have made the whole trolley advertising concept more powerful. A map/store plan would have been a focus for the shopper's attention – a reason to look at the trolley. Perhaps the advertising could have been positioned around the map. There could have been more than one brand of advertising on it... and so on...

Suggested Action

Add a checklist to your innovation process. How well does the concept deliver against each type of user's needs? It will remind you to move beyond consideration of the primary target market.

At the very least you will avoid missing some quick-wins that could power up your proposition. At best you could turn an incremental innovation into a breakthrough product or service.