The front of a scope charity shop

Retail Innovation Project: What happened next?

A few weeks ago we wrote a blog introducing a retail project we are running, to which we have given the catchy name ‘Retail Innovation Project’! This is the project that the Foresight and Innovation and Retail departments are running together, with the aim of trying new ideas and increasing profitability of Scope shops. Eight shops are involved in the project, trialling eight different new ideas. Each participant has up to £1000 to spend over the duration of the three month project.

We heard in the last blog from participant Hannah Croft about her experience of the initial group workshop. She and the others were thrown into a world of post-it notes and brainstorms, encouraged to identify an area to work on in their individual shops, and to generate loads of ideas that they could test.

The project has now been running for a while, and we thought it was time to give an update. What ideas are being trialled? Have there been any successes so far? Has innovation been demystified?

Gary from the New Milton shop and Sheelagh from the shop in Hexham are both trialling quite different ideas, so we asked them to share their thoughts with us about the process and experience so far.

So, what’s the idea(s) you’re testing and why?

Gary beads sitting at deskGary: Have you ever found yourselves with your head down doing lots of jobs in your shops, distracting you from Customer Magic? I know I have! This is why I was thrilled to get involved with the Retail Innovation Project. It was a chance to push forward and trial two ideas to be more customer-focused and less task-driven. My two initial ideas were a new stock take-off system and a customer service window.

‘Take offs’ (stock that needs to be moved off the shop floor) in my shop take ages and really limits me engaging with my customers, so I wanted to simplify it. I am trialling a way of identifying what to take off by having coloured cubes on the hangers, each colour denoting a different day. It’s going well and I have reduced my take off time to 10 minutes a day, a massive time saver!

I am also trialling an 11 ‘til 3 Customer Service Window. This means we don’t do any jobs during that time and only focus on our customers. This is work in progress and we plan to launch it on 6th May with a Flash Sale and lots of in store activity to make our customers feel special. My team and I are really excited to be doing new things and hopefully hearing the till ring.

Hexham shelvingSheelagh: I’m trialling a ‘Collector’s Corner’ in my shop in Hexham, on every second Tuesday of the month. Hexham is a small market town with a big interest in antiques. It has a large monthly Antiques fare and I thought it would be a good idea to create some interest in our higher priced collectable items by designating a special area in the shop for collectables whilst the town had dealers and visitors attending the fare.

Did you have any fears about the project?

Gary: Having the chance to try anything to help increase sales is exciting and a bit daunting at the same time. It’s quite difficult not to limit yourself, and I have had to really try to stretch my ideas around activities for our customers during the service window. Once I opened my mind to innovation lots of ideas have flowed, resulting in me waking me up one night soon after the meeting scribbling down ideas!

Sheelagh: I worried that our regular customers may be put off by seeing so many higher priced items in one go in the shop, but because of the special display until we made it created a good talking point, and our regulars have also purchased items from it.

What’s been the best part of the process so far?

Gary: Throughout the first meeting it was great to meet other Managers who have new ideas but not always a way forward for them. The room was a brilliant melting pot of ideas that we already do in our shops and new ones which we would trial. Also the new system seems to be working! The time taken to do take-offs has decreased from a couple of hours to just 5 to 10 minutes, meaning more time to interact with customers. It is also simpler and more visual, so all my volunteers can do it and I have total inclusion in this task.

Sheelagh: The best part has been seeing the team in the shop’s reaction to my idea and watching them work as a team to promote it and chat to customers about the idea. So far we have raised nearly £400 just from these sales, and with more advertising and interest we hope to be even more successful.

What have you learned about innovation and what it means from this project?

Gary: One thing I have learnt about being innovative is that your ideas change. Sometimes things get bigger and better and others become too complicated and you need to let them go. It’s been a long process that is still ongoing and I am waiting to see if my innovations really work and put more money in the till.

Sheelagh: I thought at the beginning of the project that the decisions about the idea would have to come from the retail management team. However having the freedom to run with my idea and test it in store has been a very  positive experience and made me realise that ideas can come from anyone, and that testing these ideas is the best way to find out whether or not they will work!

I have also learned that you need to be open to your ideas changing and not worry that the working plan you begin with might not necessarily be what you end up with.

What one piece of advice would you give someone look to try out new ideas?

Gary: The one piece of advice I would give anyone trying out new ideas is be bold and stick to your guns if you believe in your ideas. You never know you could be on to a winner that everyone at Scope could benefit from.

Sheelagh: Have faith in your ideas and learn from your mistakes. I didn’t know that making a small area in the shop into a special interest area would generate so much income for our shop!

Investing in Innovation

Retail is a really important to Scope. It’s how many people recognise us as a charity and it raises vital funds for our work, so it’s important to continue to invest in new ideas and practices. It’s also a competitive environment, so we have to occasionally embrace risk and step outside our comfort zones to ensure that we are continually striving to improve our performance. As Gary and Sheelagh found, everyone has the opportunity to try to operate a bit more innovatively. An important part is trusting that you have the insight and experience to have great ideas, and to really believe in them.

There are three more weeks to go before the project ends, at which point we will review the whole experience and see what we have learned. Maybe there will be ideas which can be rolled out to our other shops, or maybe participants will be inspired and will inspire others to keep thinking creatively and innovatively in their shops. Either way, it’s been great to create room for the chance to try out new ideas.

Have you seen any charity shop innovations in action, or visited one of Scope’s shops recently? Leave us a comment or email us your thoughts at