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How Do You Research Something That Doesn't Exist Yet?

Our mission at Store No 8 is to ‘Ignite The Change that Changes Everything,’ and research plays a key role. We’re exploring ideas that we believe will shape the future of commerce, before they even exist. How? By making big bets, forcing ourselves to forget the limitations of today’s technology and capabilities,  and allowing ourselves to imagine the impossible. To do this, we start with research — lots of research. Research plays an essential role in the discovery process, because it helps to cement the facts and paints a picture of both need and opportunity.

Our approach is to look at something inside and out, covering all the bases. It’s how we develop the confidence to say we’ve dedicated our time and energy to a capability that can shape the future of the enterprise and retail as a whole. Our goal is to foster dramatic change and create capabilities that when they grow to scale, consumers won’t be able to imagine ever having lived without them.

A great example outside of our industry is Airbnb.  Think back to the early days of Airbnb — there were so many naysayers, “who would let a stranger into their home?” Airbnb was founded by envisioning the capability of creating a global travel community. Today, Airbnb has created technology that offers access to millions of homes around the world, encouraging people “to unlock and monetize their spaces, passions and talents to become hospitality entrepreneurs.” Now everyone’s home can double as a hotel--though the concept of making a shareable asset out of one’s home was foreign until just a few years ago. Airbnb's latest valuation in 2017 came in at approximately $31 billion (CNBC). If Airbnb’s Founders had focused only on the here and now in 2008, they would never have been able to see the white space opportunity in front of them. Their idea would inevitably have focused on the incremental.

In order to think about the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘what could bes,’ major in-depth research and hypothesizing about macro trends need to happen. Beyond research, it’s Store No 8’s future-forward mentality and working-backwards approach that allows us to do what we do, differently. We first imagine the capabilities of tomorrow- what retail needs 5 - 10+ years in the future- and how to get there second. By working backwards, we problem solve from a far out future and bring it back to today, covering all angles from a research perspective. We don’t base success on today’s metrics, because they don’t measure what will be relevant before a capability grows to scale. So how can we measure success when data or metrics don’t exist yet? We don’t. If we did, we’d be limited to how big someone has already dreamt. Instead, we think about how an idea or capability would look at scale, and then dream a new, bigger dream and work backwards — using deep research to answer the important questions.

Keep an eye out for the next installments of our “How We Do Research” series. You’ll get an inside look at Store No 8’s incubation process and the leading role research plays in it. The final piece will include a candid conversation with Anna Harman, Director of New Ventures and Rachel Reid, Associate, New Ventures, discussing how we use research to approach the exciting subject of customer experience of the future.

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