#NRF2018 was simply one of the best, positive and forward-looking NRF gatherings in a very long time. Despite the cold weather and Manhattan traffic, the vibe in Javits Center was refreshingly positive, clear and hopeful. A good economy, jobs and stock market has clearly played a major role in boosting consumer confidence and discretionary spend, especially during the critical holiday season. Holiday sales in the U.S. jumped 6% and it is one of the highest in more than a decade.
There were a lot of myths and hypes that got busted by the retail leaders and there were a lot of bold moves and strategies to survive in the digital economy that were debated. Retail apocalypse was pronounced “dead” by leaders and analysts unanimously. The apocalypse calls were a good hype alert that woke up the industry to transform and get relevant. 2018 is expected to be a bigger year and the industry is expected to grow at almost 5%.
Being “in-the-moment” of the shopper
Before digital experience and channels came, retailers had none to very rudimentary ways of knowing store traffic, conversion and other insights to drive business. Once digital channels became pervasive, it became clear that the best way to drive KPIs up is by capturing and analyzing trends and taking actions. Actions in the past have been always in an offline/batch mode where a retailer sends out information flyers, coupons or emails/web carousels. But right now, the need is for retailers to engage when the customer is “in-the-moment” and wants to shop.
Stores are here to stay (and may even grow)
Stores are a critical part of a customer’s journey and should be the centerpiece of a brand’s strategy to offer a seamless, channel agnostic shopping experience. Media hypes over store closures and end of brick and mortar as a channel were busted by industry leaders, analysts and partners alike at the conference. Amazon buying Whole Foods was not just the vindication but a huge reinforcement.
Many retail leaders called out scenarios where customers switch between channels seamlessly in their journey to shop, and do not make any conscious choice as to which channel they would choose to shop. It is more of a comfort/convenience driven happenstance than anything else.
Store technology, such as basic store operations, store associate engagement and IOT devices enabled experiential retail, is coming together. The digitally famished stores will have their day in the sun with technologies to provide better experience and convenience to shoppers. Additionally, these next-gen technologies will also enable store associates to focus more on engaging with customers and less on mundane tasks.
Data is the new location of retail
From large vendors to start-ups there is a phenomenal focus on leveraging gazillion bytes of data and pulling that one needle out of the proverbial haystack. Retailers at NRF clearly understood that and called out cross-channel data correlation, drawing insights and acting on them real-time as a key factor that is going to make a big difference in not just surviving but thriving.
Retailers who excel in this art-and-science of stitching journeys and experiences across channels seamlessly and getting contextual in real-time will make it to the future in style … while the rest will leave money on the table.
AI and ML augmentation
Most retailers spoke about their plans to invest in AI/ML technologies. They expect these investments will give them speed-to-market, while augmenting human capabilities and process automation, as well as bring immense speed and accuracy at scale. The real balance of AI/ML working alongside with humans seems to be on the horizon and with the pop-frenzy “Terminator” type hue-and-cry is slowly falling off the tracks, paving way for a meaningful coexistence. 2018 obviously will see a huge spend by leading retailers in adopting solutions in this space to augment their business capabilities.