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17 Jan

Everything You Need To Know About NRF 2020

NRF Feature Image

Author: Alex Musto

Retail’s biggest exhibition, hosted by the National Retail Federation (NRF), is hailed as the one-stop shop for every aspect of retail.

Bringing the greatest industry minds to New York, the NRF show promised to deliver critical foresight to retail leaders. We were proud to take part with our REPL stand where we spoke to retailers about their challenges, pain points and the solutions available to make their lives easier and their businesses more profitable.

If you couldn’t make the event, or you did attend and need a recap, this article is for you. Here, we highlight the best bits of the NRF 2020 big event and reveal the hot retail technology topics everyone was talking about.

How Busy Was the Show?

With 400 speakers – including the likes of Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella and Neela Montgomery, CEO of Crate and Barrel – it’s no surprise the show was busy and buzzing. In fact, some sessions were so popular that the doors had to close 15 minutes before the session began because they were already full

Retailers turned up in huge numbers – 38,000 attendees according to the show’s website – and were looking to learn about best practices to help solve their issues.

Who Were the Best Speakers?

Of course we couldn’t attend all 400 speaker sessions, however, one person who really stood out was Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. Opening the show as the keynote speaker, he made some interesting points around the store of the future. And provided detailed insights around what’s going on in each aisle through to the importance of enhancing employee communication.

Nadella was also upbeat about the future for retailers, commenting that: “You have, as retailers, the most valuable asset – consumer intent and consumer behavior data. This to me is what’s going to re-shape retail, re-shape retail business models.” 

With a similar focus on the customer, speaker Neela Montgomery, CEO of Crate and Barrel said retailers need to: “Challenge yourself to be unexpected for your customers while being true to your DNA.” 

Read between these two quotes and it seems that retailers are able to bring the customer perspective into every aspect of retail through data using the insights gained to inform the innovation and creativity that will delight customers. The challenge is to find a way to make this happen.

Could Anything Have Been Done Better?

The NRF show included an innovation lab – a space for new and small companies with cutting edge products to showcase their work. However, many of the solutions were very similar to existing products and services demonstrating a lack of out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to solving the other challenges retailers are facing. 

This reflects a wider challenge in the industry. Although the problems faced by retailers are well understood, nobody is coming up with any game-changing solutions. And the tech that is being developed isn’t sufficiently customer focused or won’t deliver enough benefit to retailers.

What Were the Hot Topics? What Caused a Buzz?

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

As we talked to people who came to our stand, it became clear that the biggest buzz was around AI, advanced AI and machine learning. It emerged that although everyone wants to use this technology, no-one actually knows how.

Returns and Personalisation

Another major topic was store returns with retailers seeking to reduce the number of products coming back into their businesses. This is hardly surprising when around 40% of purchases in some sectors are returned.

One solution that’s been offered up is hyper personalisation which could see retailers taking personalised orders at scale. Imagine providing your individual measurements when ordering a shirt in the knowledge it will fit perfectly. It’s this level of individual service that digital technology could make commonplace at scale.

While perfectly fitting clothes sound like a dream come true, depending where hyper personalisation heads, it’s possible there could be a backlash. Do retailers risk being perceived as a threatening, big brother like figure, watching every move customers make? Could tracking in-store journeys to see how people interact with products and how they make the decision to purchase, for example, simply be too much? 

The parameters of what is and is not acceptable to customers is new territory that must be carefully considered and understood. What works for one brand – for example those with younger customers who are happy to share this level of personal data – could differ to other, more wary customer demographics.

Linking Systems

Responsive systems are a must for any retail business. Brands are now looking for a solution to allow front and back systems to work together in a way that enables the front end to be updated in response to changing customer expectations while maintaining the same back end solution. 

Cracking this challenge will reduce workloads for retailers’ in-house IT teams or external development partners making systems more responsive and streamlined and enhancing the customer journey as habits evolve. 

Sustainability

Another topic on everyone’s lips was sustainability. This is already a major focus for some retailers, particularly grocers who are seeking to reduce backroom supplies, donating food before it goes bad or doing away with plastic bags. Achieving this level of stock control relies on ensuring a more efficient supply chain and making the money wasted by over-ordering a problem of the past. 

Of course where one section of the retail industry leads, the pressure is on for other retailers to step up too. It will be interesting to see what happens in this area and which brands will lead the way.

Other Hot Topics

Additional themes that were raised during the show included:

  • Making brick and mortar stores a seamless part of the omnichannel shopping experience
  • How to entice customers to join and remain loyal using new technology and solutions
  • Ensuring retailers have a more diverse workforces to understand and better serve all customers
  • Empowering employees through engagement and technology that enables collaboration and communication

Which Hot Topics Are Most Likely to Endure?

With rapidly changing customer expectations and the accelerating speed of technological change, events provide an opportunity to take stock of core concepts and see which have settled. In our opinion, the retail market has matured around the key technology themes of:

We predict that a lot more will be said and done in these areas in the next three years.

To get our take on the tech trends impacting the  US and UK – and to see what retailers on both sides of the pond can learn from each other – take a look at this article. Or, if you need help with any of the topics in this article, contact our expert team for support on +44 (0) 808 200 7375.

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