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Neiman Marcus iLab: Next Generation of Retail Ideas, Innovations 

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The importance of innovation in retail has received a lot of attention lately. The industry’s accelerating pace of change and continual introduction of new technologies mean that retailers now have to constantly evaluate how they will invent and deliver new experiences and services to their customers. The need to address this ever-increasing rate of change is what drove the creation of the iLab at Neiman Marcus.

Innovation is not new to Neiman Marcus, which was founded in 1907 by three young innovators, Herbert Marcus Sr., his sister Carrie Marcus Neiman, and her husband A.L. Neiman. They all had experience in retail prior to founding Neiman Marcus and saw an opportunity to create a better retail experience for customers. With the establishment of the company, they put Dallas on the fashion map, and today, Neiman Marcus is recognized around the world for its innovative approach to luxury retailing. Some examples of innovations pioneered by Neiman Marcus include the Fortnight celebrations, The Christmas Book, Fantasy Gifts, and the InCircle customer-loyalty program.

The Dallas Innovation scene has been both a contributor to and an influencer of the iLab’s evolution.

The recent explosion of new digital technologies means that opportunities to innovate are more numerous then ever before. The care and feeding of technology has traditionally been the province of the information services team at Neiman Marcus. As the importance of technology has expanded, the need to quickly evaluate and deliver new digital innovations has magnified. The old model of the information services team simply acting as order-takers for technology requests from the frontline business units needed a refresh. The Neiman Marcus iLab was founded to help evaluate the ceaseless stream of technologies and ideas being dreamed up both internally by our associates and externally by our partners. The iLab is focused on researching and educating the business on new technologies. Its mission is to explore new technology in search of unique and imaginative solutions that enhance the customer experience, advance our relationship with our clients, and support Neiman Marcus strategic initiatives.

The Memory Mirror at Neiman Marcus.

The Memory Mirror at Neiman Marcus.

The Dallas Innovation scene has been both a contributor to and an influencer of the iLab’s evolution. Local events like Dallas Startup Week and RevTech’s Pitch Day have been a source of both inspiration and new partnerships. Local networking opportunities like Price Waterhouse Coopers Texas Innovators events have acted as conduits to connect the iLab with other local innovation teams. The expanding number of local networking opportunities is the natural result of a rapidly growing innovation culture in the DFW area. This growth in local innovation opportunities dovetails perfectly with the growth of the Neiman Marcus innovation lab. The iLab has relied on these local partnerships in tandem with Neiman Marcus Associates and vendors from around the globe to conceive and deliver on its mission. Rather than build a separate unit that is removed from the mainstream business groups, the Neiman Marcus innovation lab is integrated into the existing organization. It is positioned this way purposely so that it can act as a crossroads where different business units can come together, collaborate on, and execute new ideas. The approach has been very successful in incubating new ideas and projects, while at the same time provided efficiency and elasticity from an operating expenses perspective. The fact that the lab is imbedded into existing business units also contributes to keeping innovation at the forefront of business activities. It is important to note that the iLab did not invent nor does it own innovation at Neiman Marcus, but rather plays the role of championing, inspiring, focusing, and promoting the innovation process. The goal is for it to be the go-to place to foster and execute new ideas and to nurture them from concept to deployment.

More than 100 years of innovation at Neiman Marcus provide a rock-solid foundation for the iLab to build on for the next generation of ideas and innovations.

Through this approach, the Neiman Marcus iLab projects have covered many areas to date. New technologies delivered include RFID deployments, smart digital signage, digital directories, 4k touch tables, micro-location beacons, automated charging stations, and the (now world-famous) Memory Mirror. Projects have included both customer-facing and internal innovations. Nothing is off limits. The goal is always to improve the customer experience as well as enhance the relationship between the customer and Neiman Marcus. While those are the driving goals, it is also important to have a measurable ROI—something that is not always easy to calculate with innovation projects! In some cases, it requires a leap of faith that ROI will follow. Making that case is one of the roles that the iLab takes on when required.

More than 100 years of innovation at Neiman Marcus provide a rock-solid foundation for the iLab to build on for the next generation of ideas and innovations.

Read more about how Neiman Marcus has played a role in North Texas fashion by going here


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Scott Emmons is Head of the Innovation Lab and Enterprise Architect at Neiman Marcus, where he is focused on IS innovation for the Neiman Marcus Group (NMG). He built the NMG innovation lab (iLab) and(...)

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