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Oxford Institute of Retail Management

Oxford Institute of Retail Management


Best Paper Award

Are there barriers to innovation in retailing?

The importance of innovation in speeding the emergence from recession has been well documented. A timely paper, evaluating this topic from the point of view of the hard-hit retail sector, won Best Paper at the 2009 summer conference of the European Association for Education & Research in Commercial Distribution.

The paper, entitled "Are there barriers to innovation in retailing?" was written by recently graduated doctoral student Latchezar Hristov, and Jonathan Reynolds, the Academic Director of the Oxford Institute of Retail Management. A version of the paper will be published in the International Review of Retail, Distribution & Consumer Research.

Recent data from the Community Innovation Survey challenge some of the conventional arguments that retailing is inherently less innovative than other sectors within developed economies. According to the data, firms in the UK retail sector are now converging on the all-sector average. Drawing on qualitative research undertaken within retail firms, this article begins by examining some of the implications of this and the reasons why survey data may still underestimate the extent of innovation in the sector.

In previous research, Hristov and Reynolds have already pointed to the very different nature of innovation in retailing, which can be open, incremental, often non-technological, and sometimes hidden. One of the potential contributory factors to an increase in reported levels of innovation may be a reduction in the barriers to that innovation.

In a new analysis of the data, the paper explores the nature and incidence of such barriers in the UK. It judges that, although barriers were already perceived to be low, further reductions may have played a part in stimulating innovation.

However, the article concludes that present economic conditions are likely to detrimentally affect a number of the cost and market factors which are the most significant barriers to innovation in the sector. It also notes in passing that, amongst other factors, the sector still lacks any real reliance upon Universities and HEIs to assist with strategic innovation.

The European Association for Education & Research in Commercial Distribution was formed nearly 20 years ago to provide a forum for all academics involved in teaching and research in the distributive trades, irrespective of academic discipline. Its 200 members meet biannually. It maintains close ties with sister organisations in North America and Asia.