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Why retailers should be sharing knowledge

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

The concept of knowledge sharing within organizations and the value it brings is fairly well established, with the enterprise social media business largely founded upon the assumption that this is a worthwhile endeavor to embark upon.

One industry where improvements could still be made however is retail.  At least, that is, according to a recent study1, from the University of Texas at Dallas, which highlighted the value inherent in the sharing of customer service experiences between stores.

“Innovation is important because when companies compete, they compete for customers,” the authors say. “Customers look at not only the quality of the product or service, but also sometimes they want to have some novel things, maybe some new ideas from the company.”

Sharing knowledge in retail

The authors studied the flow of knowledge throughout a chain of retail outlets to explore how they influence the innovative capabilities of each store.  What they found was quite surprising.

Whilst it’s intuitive to assume that knowledge flowing inwards will benefit the innovation of a facility, the study revealed that when stores shared knowledge (ie an outflow of knowledge), this also boosted their innovation levels.

The importance of give and take

The study revealed that the most innovative stores were ones that had a good balance between knowledge flowing in and knowledge flowing out.

“We were surprised to find that not only is large inflow important but large outflow is also important — how a store tries to teach other stores about how to serve its customers,” the authors say. “If an innovative idea works in one particular location, that store should tell other stores. We found that knowledge outflow has a positive impact on the innovative behavior of employees.”

Innovation requires connectivity

The study also highlighted the importance of connectivity for innovation, with isolation having a negative impact on the creativity of stores.  It was found to be crucial that stores regularly interacted with one another to share tips and ideas.

“If you are the manager of a unit, the best thing for you to do is to try to communicate with other units, not only to try to learn but to try to teach and to share your ideas,” the authors reveal. “Don’t be selfish. If a unit tries only to learn and not teach, the other units may balk and say, ‘This is a greedy unit. They only try to learn things from us but don’t share with us.’

There were particular benefits identified from actively sharing ones insights.  For instance, the process of sharing insights with others helped stores to better understand themselves.  This also gave the other stores a better idea of their knowledge profile, so they in turn could send more tailored and useful knowledge back their way.

A regular flow of knowledge outwards also promoted and underlined a sense of fairness and collaboration.  This reciprocity and goodwill proved beneficial in numerous ways.

All of which further underlines the value of sharing knowledge for all kinds of organizations, whether in the retail sector or not.

Article source: Why retailers should be sharing knowledge.

Header image source: Blake Wisz on Unsplash.


  1. Lai, J., Lui, S. S., & Tsang, E. W. (2016). Intrafirm knowledge transfer and employee innovative behavior: The role of total and balanced knowledge flows. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 33(1), 90-103.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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