Retailers turn to staff for ideas to grow their businesses, finds survey


Record numbers of retail bosses are turning to support staff, including cleaners and security guards, for ideas to grow their business, according to new research by Orange.

In a bid to stay ahead in an increasingly competitive marketplace, levels of innovation have increased across retail businesses, with 60% stating they are innovating more than ever before, the study found.

This is ahead of transport (29%), manufacturing (43%) and hotel & catering (52%). When asked if their firm asks staff for their ideas, for example on new products and services, 49% agreed. Twenty one per cent of retail bosses surveyed said support staff regularly submit ideas to improve their business, leading to unprecedented growth in business innovation from within.

According to the research, which Orange commissioned to highlight innovative working practices, businesses are attributing this surge in innovation to two factors: a drive to stay ahead of the competition with new products and services and a route to cut costs.  

When questioned why their firm asks employees for their ideas, 32% said it was to gain a competitive advantage over rivals and 44% said it was to save costs. The economic downturn is clearly having a big impact on this trend too, with over a third (39%) of employees believing their firm asks more staff for their ideas now compared to the boom times (2002 – 2007), said Orange.

This new trend is having a dramatic impact on firms’ bottom lines, leading to a growth in profits, the study found.

According to the research, the average businesses turned four staff suggestions into new offerings over the last 12 months. Furthermore, these suggestions generated an extra £250,000 in profit over the same period for 33% of businesses surveyed.

The study also found bosses are not making the most of their employees, said Orange. Over half (52%) of respondents said bosses should spend more time asking staff for ideas to grow the business. 

To help British businesses further embrace innovation, Orange has developed a new guide for business. It includes innovation secrets from some of the world’s most imaginative organisations like 3M, LinkedIn and Innocent Drinks. To download the free guide, please visit:

“There is a new connected culture of bosses asking their whole organisation for ideas,” said Martin Stiven, vice president of business, Orange. “It is sweeping through British business and with fears of a double dip recession growing, new ideas are exactly what is needed to kick start the economy.

“Innovation is central to Orange’s core values. We encourage employees to come up with new ideas using a range of methods, including social media networks such as Yammer. If the UK is to regain its role as a world leader of innovation, we firmly believe that all bosses should harness the ideas around them for inspiration – it’s amazing what other people know.”

Professor Dominic Swords from Henley Business School, who contributed to the guide, said: “Innovation does not just sit at the top. To innovate successfully the whole business, from product development, to sales and marketing, must be fully engaged and energised behind that goal. Companies that are always improving and investing stand a much better chance of offering their markets what they want.”

Even though more businesses are turning to their staff to innovate, the research found bosses need to do more to facilitate this internally, said Orange. Over a quarter (29%) of respondents revealed the biggest barrier to employee innovation is not having the systems in place to submit ideas, while holding innovation sessions is seen as the best way to get ideas out of a business (26%). 

Utilising social media networks, such as LinkedIn and Yammer, was another popular choice, with 78% seeing it is a cost effective way to quickly generate as many ideas as possible and boost innovation, the research found.