Trends and Takeaways from Retail’s NRF BIG Show 2019

Alison Choe
Alison Choe

From AI to VR to IoT, these buzzword acronyms were featured at this year’s NRF Big Show. But beyond the jargon, the show delved into practical ways for retailers to take on the transformation of the industry.

Every year at the world’s largest retail conference and exposition, nearly 40,000 attendees from 100 countries gather at the NRF Big Show in New York City to discuss and learn about the emerging trends and innovations.

This year, ‘experience’ was one of the key themes that many demonstrations centered around. From personalizing a shopper’s experience online and in the store, to improving logistics and supply chains, it ultimately came down to delivering a great shopping experience. However, you might ask, what does that really mean in practice? How can we engage shoppers, inspire them, and make their journey as seamless as possible? How do we constantly keep in touch with what shoppers want and adapt accordingly?

The discussions at the show touched on these questions and here are some takeaways:

1 – Curation

Shoppers want to engage with brands on a personal level. Instead of dealing with a choice overload online, shoppers will make the trip to a physical store, especially if the experience cannot be replicated online.

b8ta has applied this in their retail-as-a-service concept, in which shoppers can discover and try out products that are not always easy to find. At the same time, brands get the opportunity to showcase their products without the high fixed costs of a physical store. However, simply curating products is not the end of the story. B8ta is constantly assessing, testing and improving their displays, product selection, customer service and more. By tracking how shoppers are navigating the store and engaging with the products, they are able to have real-time data on how to tailor to shopper interest and needs.

2 – Visualization

Much of the discussions were also around virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies. From interactive mirrors to 3D modelers used to visualize interior design layouts, the line between digital and physical is increasingly blurred with a seamless integration of the two. For example, at Google Cloud’s booth, a demonstration focused on a shopper trying on a product in front of a mirror, where the mirror’s in-built camera then uses vision-based analytics to detect the specific product and present more product details on the mirror, including reviews. Additionally, through the mirror, shoppers can also request an associate to bring a different size to the fitting room.

3 – Connectivity

While omnichannel has been a hot buzzword, shoppers don’t see their world as online vs. offline. They bounce between many touchpoints and ultimately want a seamless journey. What does this mean for retailers? The various platforms retailers use, such as online and offline stores, payment systems, and social media, all need to be well integrated. Ideally, the data should be shared in privacy-friendly ways to give retailers the insights to personalize for shoppers.

China’s retail infrastructure gives us a glimpse into this. While the platforms in China are very different from other markets, such as in the U.S. and Europe, it does show us one way that this has been done at scale.

Alibaba spoke about digitizing the entire retail value chain, from product innovation and development, consumer engagement, inventory management, logistics, and payments. Each of these components collect and share data to ultimately benefit a customer-centric experience. One example is Home Times, Alibaba’s first online-to-offline store in the home furnishings category. The store dramatically changes its 20,000 items of merchandise every 10-15 days based on the behaviors of consumers within a five-mile radius. They stock more popular items based on shoppers’ behavior on their Tmall website.

4 – Scalability

Many of today’s successful and fast growing retailers are digital natives. From Warby Parker to Glossier, these brands started online and are opening brick-and-mortar stores. Often, their first store is wildly successful, but as they grow, they have to be able to continue to deliver the same engaging and personal experience.

One retailer, Story, is a perfect example. They brought in six-figure profits in their first year with their 2,000 square foot store in Manhattan, which acts more like a magazine or gallery, with its entire design and merchandise curated around a specific theme that rotates every couple of months. After being acquired by Macy’s, they now have a larger platform of 300 stores to develop their concepts.

One approach by Cos Bar, a digitally native beauty retailer, is to collect and analyze data on conversion, engagement of shoppers with fixtures, capture rate, and more. As a result, they were able to A/B test and rollout successful initiatives to other stores.

All in all, this year’s NRF Big Show showcased a myriad of technologies, initiatives and trends that are going to spearhead the retail revolution. Much of the transformation is still unfolding and it’s exciting to watch the creative ways retailers deliver their shopping experiences.

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