NRF’s Big Show 2017 – 3 Clear Takeaways

NRF’s Big Show 2017 – 3 Clear Takeaways

With over 35,000 attendees, 510 exhibitors presenting hundreds of insight sessions, and 79 speaker sessions there was certainly a buzz about NRF this year.
Speakers ranged from Sir Richard Branson to astronaut Scott Kelly, big end of town CEO’s of Macy’s, Walmart and Home Depot to disruptive brands like Strypes and Indochino, and Australia’s own Jodie Fox (Shoes of Prey) stealing centre stage on Day 1 – meaning there was valuable, relevant content for everyone.

Whilst interesting subjects such as AI, robots and virtual reality were of course covered, most of the discussions on the floors were firmly focused on the big pain points the retail industry is facing and how both technology and staff should be employed to drive an enhanced customer experience.

Below are three takeaways I believe were central at the show, but will also provide relatively quick and certainly significant wins for retailers everywhere.

Graham: Omnichannel an imperative requiring action not talk

Like the term or loath it, omnichannel is the word, and it is no longer a discussion about if but more about how. Every metric in relation to customer satisfaction, customer spend and retention makes this clear. However, what NRF sessions and discussions made obvious is that omnichannel excellence is not a claim any retailer can make – the blueprint has not been written.

This is particularly evident in the behind-the-scenes operational processes and technology implemented to date supporting omnichannel retail. It is also evident in the typical front of house in-store experience. Many have ticked the click-and-collect box, but done so in an extremely sub-optimal way, impacting both margin and customer experience. As Brendan Witcher, principle analyst at Forrester puts it:

“Omnichannel offerings have grown considerably over the last few years, but retailers need to buckle down on the unsexy stuff — people and process… We see that many retailers have a long way to go in creating good customer experiences.”

With retailers in attendance fully appreciating this, living through their own pain as it were, discussions and interest in technology supporting omnichannel operations, as well as learning from other retailers experience was a major feature of the show. However, technology can only be the enabler, and this leads to what I felt was the biggest single theme of the show – people.

Graham: Our people are the key to retail’s future

During the opening of the show, NRF announced their new retail training and qualification programme in conjunction with over 30 leading retailers called RISE Up. Described as “a ground-breaking new training and credentialing initiative designed by the retail industry to help people — regardless of education, background, economic means or age — acquire the skills they need to secure jobs in retail and advance into promising careers.” Followed by the first keynote fully focussed on attracting and retaining talent, it was clear that the simple message was that store associates are the key to the success of today and tomorrow’s retail success.

But it wasn’t just about staff retention. Retailers discussed in many formats the importance of investing in a more highly skilled (read digitally skilled) workforce required in order to bring omnichannel to life in stores, maximising on the omnichannel opportunity and providing the best customer service.

Diversity was also pointed out as key, both in terms of the importance of background and skill sets, with diverse not necessarily meaning young, although ironically one panel I saw discussing this on the main stage were all male, white and mid-50’s!

Then the discussion turned to tools that would help rather than hinder in-store operations – staff first technology and process that would truly enable a digital savvy, invested store associate to delight customers and enjoy every aspect of their role (even handling returns).

Graham: Mobile, PoS and Customisable Products

Grouped together as these were sub themes in comparison to the first two, there was much agreement on the importance of these three.

There is no doubt that mobile commerce continues to drive sales everywhere and must be a central part of any retail strategy, but checkout on mobile devices is also rising rapidly – perhaps because of ever better mobile experience in the cart itself. It is certainly providing a very large revenue stream today.

I continue to be amazed at the volume and diversity of POS systems on display at NRF, showing no sign of slowing down. POS vendors are moving into other areas of the chain and other suppliers are moving into more modern areas of POS – mobile in particular. Why I mention this topic, is that I for one was left still unsure as to what POS should, or will look like even just a few years from now, and many retailers talked of holding back on major POS related decisions while this plays out.

Jodie Fox from Shoes of Prey described the rise in popularity of customisable products. This continues to provide both an interesting challenge and opportunity for traditional retail. Getting this right in-store requires technology that can handle product personalisation as well as an endless aisle style ordering system. What’s clear is customers love customisation.

I would love to hear from others who attended this year and hear you views and key takeaways.


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