This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.
Which key topics are top of the agenda at NRF’s Big Show this January?
The overall theme of the show is ‘Impact’ and the programme dives deep into several key topics. The first is ‘purpose’ – today’s consumers want to support mission-driven businesses, so companies are taking a more active role speaking out on issues that are at the height of the cultural conversation. CEOs of major brands like Ben & Jerry’s, TOMS, Patagonia and Levi’s will discuss how to run businesses where purpose is part of the DNA, values-based leadership and the impact of consumers making value-based purchases. Related to this, two sessions will highlight how the consumer trends of wellness and sustainability have evolved into real ‘movements’ that are here to stay.
Building the next-level customer experience is a key focus in the modern retail environment. The CEOs of Kroger and Macy’s will speak about how the customer experience is no longer about omnichannel and bridging offline and online, but about forging new partnerships and acquiring technology companies. Physical retail is still crucial to how retailers differentiate themselves and Nordstrom will share how it’s approaching new formats. Companies will also outline how they are developing unique products that deliver integrated experience, such as Sleep Number’s technology-enhanced bed.
Operations will be another major topic. Technology like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, frictionless payment solutions and supply chain has enabled impressive integration and efficiencies in the retail business, and now retailers are looking at how they can integrate it throughout their operations to improve the end-to-end shopping experience.
Talent & Culture is always an important topic for retail because of how many people the industry employs. Sephora and Stitch Fix will share how the industry has amped up recruitment of technology talent, while the CEO of Best Buy will talk about the importance of investing to train store associates. Retailers are strong leaders when it comes to emphasising the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the advancement of women as leaders, so we’ll have two sessions dedicated to those important topics.
Why do retailers, technology companies and other industry suppliers attend the event every year?
NRF’s Big Show has everything and everybody in one place. First, it brings together the largest community of peers in retail and the adjoining consumer-facing industries. Second, our expo hall will showcase every type of technology that retailers could ever need, while our Innovation Lab will display new solutions from start-ups and others. Most importantly, the event is the best place for retail industry players to educate themselves about the latest trends and hear from CEOs of fast-growing brands like StockX and Allbirds, as well as industry giants like Lowe’s and Alibaba. The programme delivers insights and perspectives from a mix of incumbents and rising stars on the most important topics facing the industry.
What are the biggest challenges facing retailers and how does attending NRF’s Big Show help them overcome these issues?
Retailers struggle to find ways to mine their vast pools of data to gain insights on customers, and they’re also challenged to develop, manufacture and deliver products more quickly. The uncertainty of the global economy and issues such as tariffs are also another big challenge. However, retailers recognise they can’t overcome their challenges alone; they need new ideas and partners to help them make headway and that’s why they come to NRF’s event.
How will the retail sector evolve in 2019 and what technologies and/or best practices will be most successful?
Retailers will continue to get more comfortable using AI and machine learning, so they will begin using it for personalisation, powering visual product searches and automating tedious processes. Voice technology has a high usage rate, but adoption has been slow when it comes to consumers using it to shop. However, if consumers want it, retailers and technology partners will make strides to remove points of friction for purchasing.
The concept of the physical store will also evolve with a blend of cashier-less, Amazon Go-style stores and experience-heavy flagship stores emerging. We’ll also see more partnerships, whether this is marketplaces selling competitors’ products or companies making acquisitions to provide products plus services.
Angela Elder is vice president of Retail Strategy at the National Retail Federation.