Moving mountains: tackling e-commerce challenges with a multi-discipline SWAT team

AfCE works with a specialist chemical company which is renowned for bringing industry-leading solvents and surfactants to market, working with a network of manufacturers, distributors and retailers worldwide.

In a high-volume, hyper-competitive market, the process of developing products which are ready for customers to bring to market is a challenging one. And, added to this, this company’s customers have a specific issue around e-commerce. Cleaning products are typically heavy and bulky, difficult to store and expensive to transport – and therefore don’t deliver high-profit.


The AfCE approach to fast solutions

To help solve these problems, AfCE supported a talented, proven, innovation manager as he embarked on a 12-week ideation project in Singapore. Together, they built a focused SWAT team with rapid idea creation, to come up with a number of product concepts that could ultimately help solve persistent problems with online sales.

This team turned the received innovation wisdom on its head. No longer would a specialist ‘innovation team’ be in charge, removed from the general business – but now a cross-business team with diverse expertise took the reins. This supports the idea that innovation can come from anywhere within a business – and that it is attitude, rather than specific experience or qualifications, which is important. This team shared common traits which made them ideal for an innovation challenge: an aptitude for fast thinking, the ability to be comfortable with ambiguity and change – and the desire to challenge established thinking.

There was an initial slew of 15 ideas, all of which had been designed to fill the brief of being portable, high-margin and high-volume, in order to fulfil the e-commerce hole in customers business model. AfCE’s expert mentor Caroline Hooft-Slootweg was brought in to help whittle down the ideas into those that were most likely to work. Caroline’s experience is extensive. She was Unilever’s first-ever global head of digital marketing and new media where she helped some of the world’s biggest brands (Knorr, Dove, Becel, Lux, Ponds) make sense of the digital space. And it’s this experience which was so valuable to the team.

With Caroline’s help, all the ideas were tested in Singapore with customer interviews and by hitting the street, then whittled down to around seven ideas which were further developed. At this stage, visual mock-ups were made by a sketch artist in order to bring the concepts to life. The ideas were only presented to the board at a midway workshop, by which time there was also a business model attached to the ideas – detailing how they might impact on other products or business processes. We know that ideas can’t exist in a vacuum – firms have to consider the impact on the business and its other work – and it’s here where many siloed innovation projects fall down.


Moving forward

Once the two most promising ideas were chosen, the process continued to move quickly. Where more information was needed, the team built landing pages with proposition information, did more testing in Singapore and took advice from consumers as to what was appealing (or otherwise) about the products. Importantly, at no stage was a traditional research agency used, but instead, the innovation team did the research itself, trimming the fat from a lengthier innovation process favoured by many.

Within six weeks, the final two products were ready to be developed for the market. But even at this stage, the team didn’t listen to received wisdom – which tells firms to adopt a ‘hoarder’ mentality, to hold onto their IP and to protect it from rivals. Instead, this organisation is collaborating with manufacturers and other parties to pool their expertise and to build the best product possible.