I serve as one of the judges for The HUB Prize 2012, presented by The Hub Magazine. As such, I got a preview of the winner for excellence in the retail experience. First place went to a New Delhi flagship store for Asian Paints, the third largest paint firm in India. It took retail innovation to a new level.

The concept started with the insight, garnered in part from in-home interviews, that consumers were not comfortable with color experimentation in their homes. They found paint a confusing category and were even intimidated by the idea of choosing colors.

The solution was a retail store that provides personalized color solutions within a magical in-store experience. It begins at the store entrance, where consumers step on footstones of different colors to activate a play of light and color that involves a huge chandelier and the external façade signage. This warm-up gets the consumer into color experimentation, shows how color affects space and the displays impact of light on color. Consumers play with tactile, colored blocks and select some combinations of colors and styles to see in an on-screen virtual room, guided by a consultant. The consumer’s preferences are used to prepare a personalized magazine that shows how the selected colors look in context. All the information is recorded on a RFID card, which is then taken to a conventional paint retailer to purchase the corresponding Asian Paints color.

The concept store gives the consumer “color-confidence,” a feeling that they can be the decorator for their home and be adventurous about color combinations. The process puts energy and involvement into the task of selecting paints and really creates a new subcategory of paints and paint retailing, which is the ultimate win. The concept is paying off. Nearby stores experienced a 35% sales increase. More importantly, the story has fundamentally changed the Asian brand position as the color and décor expert in India. It’s no longer a paint company.

One final thought. This idea was not generated by benchmarking against existing retail experiences, by harnessing the technology available, or by the expertise of suppliers. It was created, rather, by imagination driven by a research-based consumer insight and a sense that great retailing requires energy, novelty and involvement.

Other entrees caught my eye. In particular:

  • A Walgreens store in a former Wall Street bank was turned into a destination store for health and daily living. With a color-coded layout, innovative fixtures and designs to support, the store has a hair salon, a nail bar, a pharmacy with an on-site doctor, a sushi station, a shoeshine station and more. It provides multiple reasons to become a patron.
  • Coastal.com, an online eyeglass brand, turned a customer acquisition struggle into healthy growth supported by word-of-mouth buzz with their “First Pair Free” program.
  • One of several “app” innovations entered, Safeway personalized the shopping experience with a “Just For U” app that keeps track of loyalty programs, provides access to the weekly circular, and allows customers to create a list and manage that list in the store.
  • Whole Foods Market developed a comprehensive program including color-coded labels and contests to provide information to consumers about the sustainability status of seafood offerings.
  • Dove and Walmart combined with the “One Girl Can” campaign in which consumers nominated a girl who could do anything. Fourteen outstanding girls were chose to participate in a self-esteem weekend involving concerts, motivation seminars and photo shoots.
  • Cineplex Entertainment developed a new brand Poptopia, for its new line of flavored popcorn. The brand had its own color, logo and packaging. Consumers could watch the process of creating the popcorn behind a glass window.

Each, in its own way, enhanced the retail experience and added energy and involvement to the brand.