I've just come back from an excellent three day visit to the VAD Expo in Lille, France.
VAD's purpose is to act as "The international e-business, direct marketing and distance selling rendez-vous", and I was happy to speak at the conference on what I expect from innovation and how we do well when we think relentlessly of the customer and what they are looking for.
What impressed me were the small and medium sized companies who have listened to customers and then delivered what they were asking for. Many have applied new technologies and new thinking to old business problems and turned lack of progress (and debt in some cases) into thriving businesses.
One company I met have solved a general problem on the web whereby clothes are returned in great quantities by customers who do not receive the size that they expect. This was mainly found to be because manufacturers' ideas of known clothing size numbers (as well as S, M, L, etc) all differ.
This company sends out small cheap swatches to show the materials, and get the customer to measure themslves following instructions from an on-screen web wizard. Clothes are then made to this specification on a one-by-one basis and are sent to customers and far lower returns than the average are achieved. Thanks to technology advances available to small clothes manufacturers, all this can be achieved quickly and at low cost.
Given the direction of the economy at the moment, its ideas and innovation like this that will keep companies trading and hard-pressed customers happy.