Innovation That Matters

What Can We Learn From Past Retail Innovations For the Home?

Lessons From the Innovation Archive

In this series, we’re unearthing ideas from our extensive archive of over 10,000 innovations that are relevant to the times we find ourselves in today.

Whilst the response to the coronavirus pandemic is already spurring new and innovative ideas and solutions that may shape sectors for years to come, we can also look to the past for lessons in agility. With this in mind, Springwise is resurfacing ideas from our extensive innovation archive.

For the last several years, we’ve been tracking innovations that illustrate how the physical home environment has become one of the most important retail channels. As smart Internet of Things devices made their way into an increasing number of homes, we saw the introduction of products with the ability to make purchases on the owner’s behalf. 

IoT devices had already been gathering data and recognizing habits to better care for their owners’ needs, so it was a natural evolution for them to begin ordering items accordingly. Jibo, for example, was able to recognize family members and interact with them according to their previous behaviour, and FridgeCam could alert users when food expiration dates were nearing and automatically compile new shopping lists. 

These developments follow the pattern of minimizing consumer effort in the retail process, with the ultimate aim of making purchasing decisions as close to the subconscious as possible. 

For more lessons in business innovation, check out Disrupt! by Springwise’s James Bidwell, now available in paperback. 


Originally published: 23rd July 2014

Robots in the home are currently limited to Roombas and smart appliances that can seem less like The Bicentennial Man and more like computers on wheels. There’s a growing trend to make robots act more like humans however, and we’ve already covered Budgee, the helper robot that carries luggage and follows its owners wherever they go. Now Jibo is a friendly robot that uses facial recognition and natural language processing to offer personal assistance in the home, and perhaps become a new member of the family.

Created by social robotics pioneer and MIT professor Dr Cynthia Breazeal, the robot looks similar to Pixar’s animated lamp and is designed to elicit the same fuzzy feelings. Behind its circular face are two hi-res cameras, 360° microphones, a speaker, an on-board computer and wifi and Bluetooth connectivity. Jibo learns what its owners’ faces look like, as well as their voices, so it knows who’s speaking to it and who it’s addressing in its Siri-like natural voice. It can also sync with other smart appliances and learn homeowners’ preferences and daily habits.

Rather than working in the background, however, the robot has been designed to be social. Users can call on it to take photos or video of special family moments and it tracks body movement and facial expressions to make sure everyone’s in the shot and looks happy. It can also give out personalized reminders depending on who’s in the room, and read bedtime stories complete with sound effects and matching graphics. Significantly, it can also place orders for food and goods upon request. Jibo is responsive and uses it’s swivelling base to make sure it’s facing family members before speaking.


Originally published: 23rd July 2014

When it comes to making a shopping list, the usual procedure is to write down what’s needed on a scrap of paper that can be illegible at times. Add to that the feeling you get when you arrive back from the shop and realize you didn’t pick up a key item, then you end up thinking that shopping could be a bit more organized. In the recent past, we’ve seen innovations such as Popcart let home cooks create online orders based on recipe ingredient lists from the web. 

Now an app and product scanner kit called hiku is hoping to make it easier to create digital shopping lists that can be shared between devices and used to buy online.

hiku consists of two parts — the scanner and the iOS app. The scanner is a small device that can be used to scan the barcodes of items in the kitchen to add them to a shopping list. Alternatively, users can use its voice recognition technology to dictate the shopping list out loud. 

When they’re done, the app creates a digital list which shoppers can use while they’re at the supermarket, simply swiping items once they’re in the basket to check them off. Each list can be shared with other people or devices. If users get to the store and an item is out of stock, they will soon be able to simply order it online through the app. 


Originally published: 29th June 2016

There are dozens of products, such as this at-home micro-roaster, that can help amateur baristas perfect their coffee-making at home. But the one thing that makes the most difference to good homebrew is the freshness of the beans. Now, Voltaire is an IoT, portable coffee grinder that monitors the beans and re-orders the user’s favourite coffee when they need a fresh supply.

Once they are roasted, the quality of coffee beans begins to diminish in a matter of days. But lots of factors can affect how quickly the coffee loses its best flavours, so it is impossible to predict an exact best before date. Instead, the Voltaire grinder uses a sensing platform to measure bean freshness, using an algorithm that takes into account everything from the roast date and bean variety to gas concentration, temperature, humidity and bean mass. 

It connects to a smartphone app and tells the user when the beans are beginning to degrade. Users can choose to either receive notifications or have their beans automatically re-ordered before they go bad.


Originally published: 20th September 2016

The FridgeCam has been developed by the London-based company Smarter. Created to prevent waste by alerting users whenever food expiration dates are near, the connected camera also provides recipe suggestions based on the current contents of the fridge and automatically compiles shopping lists.

Magnetically mounted, FridgeCam takes only moments to set up. Users download the app, and with personalized notifications, know just before they run out of any favourites. FridgeCam takes a photo of the inside of the refrigerator every time the door closes. Connected via wifi, alerts are sent to everyone in the household who has signed up to the same account.

Waste prevention is essential to sustainability, and the food industry is a well-known culprit. Hence the multitude of projects popping up to try to combat the excess. This app provides on-demand food donation, and this one lets hungry users order unsold restaurant meals at a bargain price.