Andrea Dorfman
Andrea Dorfman
Content Manager

While the NRF’s BIG Show may be over for the 35,000 attendees and 510 exhibitors representing 95 countries, the inspiration will definitely live on.

It was THE place to see and learn about game-changing innovation designed to excite and amaze retailers. Drones, virtual reality, augmented reality, robotics, customization and personalization, interactive dressing rooms, are all incredibly shiny and appealing. And demonstrate that the Internet of Things is essentially around the corner. Which can also be overwhelming for retailers, as many are still in the early stages of digital transformation, integrating and unifying their commerce ecosystem so they can offer customers seamless omnichannel experiences everywhere they shop.

And sure, in light of all these amazing shiny new objects on display, many retailers are perhaps getting bored of hearing buzzwords like omnichannel and unified commerce, but the reality is that this is a top priority among NRF attendees. One thing is crystal clear: whether early adopters, disruptors, or traditional retailers with global footprints, everyday life in the retail industry has changed dramatically. Innovation is de facto.

Here are 4 other revealing takeaways from NRF.

Digital transformation is reinventing the customer journey.

Speed. Choice. Convenience.

These are three magic words that every retailer must embrace in order to meet the new ‘on-demand’ mindset of consumers. Today’s shoppers don’t have time to waste searching for products they want; they can’t seem to get orders into their hands fast enough (next-day and even same-day delivery?); they want more choices but only of things that matter to them, and they want to shop anywhere, buy anywhere and get their order anywhere.

There was a plethora of demos to solve for these challenges.  

  • Modern responsive ecommerce sites
  • Going mobile (for customers and employees)
  • Redefining the physical store
  • Leveraging big data and analytics
  • Centralizing data
  • Moving to the cloud

How can retailers adapt quickly enough to meet these heightened and constantly evolving demands?

The critical factor is choosing the right solutions and the right priorities to best meet customer expectations. Sometimes retailers have to start at the bottom, architecting a new commerce foundation, but there are also solutions out there that can actually help them achieve this faster (months vs years), at a fraction of the cost (built in the cloud) – without replatforming.

Technology is making retail more human again.

Visitors at the Microsoft Booth were exposed to innovations that build empowered retail. This tech giant featured solutions that help enterprise retailers move away from product-centricity so they can focus on individual customer and employee experiences. Because long-term success is about keeping people happy. In any business.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, at the heart of building authentic, human connections is technology. Especially the invaluable data revealing rich insights into customer actions and desires, what they like and don’t like, to offer personalized, relevant and memorable experiences that surpass expectations. And therefore convert more sales and boost loyalty.

Opening keynote speaker, Linda Kirkpatrick, Executive VP for U.S. Market Development with MasterCard, spoke about customization and the future of retail. “There is no doubt we’ve seen a permanent shift in the way consumers shop and behave… Consumers across all age groups are more willing to spend on experiences rather than things, and are more interested in retailers who offer personal, custom, digital and social experiences.”

There is also a massive change in the way sales associates engage customers, and their value on brand experience has never been higher. Testament to the impact digital is having on the relationship between customers and store associates is the NRF Foundation’s new RISE Up education and credentialing program, designed to attract and retain great talent to grow with a retailer as they innovate and rapidly adapt for changing customer expectations.

Brick and Mortar is a vital part of a digital strategy.

Digital transformation of the store was one of the hottest topics at NRF17 and a top priority for many. And with good reason.

Technology gives retailers opportunities to revive their stores, breathing new life and new purpose through digital experiences. A brand’s physical footprint is now becoming a true differentiator in the retail landscape. Entertainment and fulfillment centers of excellence. Where the lines between the digital and the physical are blended so shoppers get the best of both worlds. 

Customers want more immersive, more exciting and more personalized experiences when they shop in stores. What seemed like game-changing experiences last year are now popping up in retail locations, and proving successful. For example, RFID-enabled product displays to instantly show store availability of preferred colors, sizes, brands, etc. Or endless aisle applications that allow customers and employees to instantly find out-of-stock items at any other location and have them delivered to the customer or store. Also on the rise are digital shopping assistants using conversational commerce to guide in-store shoppers through the shopping journey – from product discovery to self-checkout.

One of the most in-demand and effective ways for retailers to leverage stores is for fulfillment. Shoppers are showing increasing appreciation and loyalty to brands that make it easy to buy or reserve online and pick up in store, or buy online and return in store. Which is why many retailers are making it a priority to invest in platforms that enable these types of customizable order fulfillment workflows to deliver these scenarios.

The pain of same is greater than the pain of change.

When asked about his key takeaways from NRF, Orckestra’s Senior Solutions Consultant, Benoit Lazzari, quickly identified two things. “One of the biggest differences between this year’s show and the last two years is that what once seemed futuristic has already come to fruition. What was once targeted to early adopters is now becoming mainstream for retail. This proves that one of the biggest challenges for retailers is being able to keep up with disruptive competition, innovation and evolving customer expectations.” He then added, “And the cloud. Moving their commerce to the cloud is a given now. Retailers realize they can never innovate fast enough if they stay on-premise with their commerce ecosystem.”

In other words, retailers need to think like technology companies, because they will essentially become technology companies. There is no longer a difference between physical and digital retail. Everything is becoming digital. Everything has to connect. We are on the cusp of the Internet of Things, where retail plays a massive role. Wearables, connected cars and household appliances, 3D printing of customized items, by 2020 there will be between 30.7 and 50 billion connected devices (depending on your source). Either way, as Sir Richard Branson so eloquently stated in his keynote, “A perpetual revolution needs to be going on inside the company”.

Digital transformation can be overwhelming. But it has become fundamental for success. Once the train gets started, and retailers have a modern infrastructure in place and a centralized source of commerce data, they will be on the fast track to launching new experiences and become the innovators that other companies want to emulate.