This week marked the return of the “Big Show,” National Retail Federation’s annual conference (#NRF16), to New York City. As a first time attendee, I wanted to share some key takeaways and noticeable trends for anyone who wasn’t able to make it, or is thinking about going next year.
1. The Big Show is big!
The Big Show moniker certainly does it justice. Somewhere around 35,000 people from all over the world descended upon Manhattan for a few days of learning, networking, and demonstrations of today's hottest retail technology. Apart from logging 14,500 steps each day on the multiple floors of trade show (yes, I’m a data nerd), I got to speak with several retailers and vendors from Brazil, Japan, and Italy (I even practiced my Italian, though I'm not sure how successful that was). Given this global presence and the sheer number of vendor booths, I think it's safe to say, this event has certainly shown its gravitas in the industry.
2. Everyone's got a journey
There’s big focus on both customer journeys as well as the technology journey retailers are going through to realize their customer’s wants and needs. There were several sessions discussing and sharing stories (sometimes painful) of technological road maps and companies’ efforts to ensure that they can not only handle the massive amount of data being collected on today’s consumers, but that they actually know what to do with that data once they have it. Customers have a journey too, and with the right store systems in place that can maximize the customer experience, i.e. POS systems, mobile pay, loyalty apps, in-store kiosks, etc., retailers have the ability, now more so than ever, to drive the loyalty they are all seeking.
3. Don't forget to be physical
Okay, so not in the lethal it’s-Black-Friday-I'm-going-to-trample-200-people-to-get-that-32"-LCD kind of way, it was obvious that physical brick-and-mortars aren’t dying out. There is a renewed push—as retailers realize that humans are still tactile creatures who want to see and touch things in person—for brick-and-mortar presence to be strong and enable better in-store shopping experiences. Retailers are starting to think of stores differently. Many are beginning to develop showrooms or warehouses where more real-time and intimate interactions occur. The digital tools and functionality on display—as omnichannel is now getting to be ubiquitous—are allowing us as consumers to have even better experiences at physical locations. Alas, we can now drive to a store and shop on their computers (…wait a minute?!). While Ecommerce efforts certainly continue to be pursued by retailers, as they should with the amount data on mobile being undeniably useful, it looks as though a best of both scenarios is presently playing out.
4. The future is now
At the end of the day there’s another day dawning (for you Les Miserables fans out there), and tomorrow's technology is certainly trying to prove this to be right. Facial recognition tracking systems and other cognitive computing technologies made a splash at this event. These technologies will change the way retailers capture data on us, and we all know data is more important than ever.
5. It's still all about the customer
In the end, as retailers collect more data and there are more points of sale, it’s all about improving the relationship with the consumer. Today’s consumers have endless choices of how and where to shop, and unless Orwell convinced you to not to step out into the world, customer connections and interactions are changing and this will continue to be at the forefront of retailers’ minds. These various points of sale, innovative loyalty programs, and better in-store systems can pose a major challenge for retailers, thanks to poor data quality, which will ultimately the customer’s experience.
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