NRF 2014 – Elevated Perspective

ImageNRF 2014 was the biggest and best so far (well it would be!) with more than could be absorbed in the time available however some key themes emerged which are both exciting and significant for the retail industry. Here is a personal summary of my 3 days at NRF 2014 – Retail’s BIG Show.

NRF 2014 Day 1: Retail Industry Rising!

NRF 2014 kicked off in anger today and what a show it promises to be. “Perspective Elevated” is the strap line for the 103rd annual convention and Expo and that seems very appropriate when one considers the position retail has within both the economy and our society.

Never has retail been in such a pivotal and dynamic place within the economy and our society. The importance and significance cannot be underestimated. And this is underlined by the fact that RetailsBIGShow will receive a congressional delegation tomorrow aimed at highlighting many of the technologies retailers are using to enhance the customer experience; especially digital and mobile technology.

And it is in this context that the significance of retail is displayed, with over 29,000 retail professionals attending NRF is now a hugely popular and important event on the global retrial calendar.

To put the industry in perspective, in the US retail generates 20% of the nation’s GDP, is responsible for more than 42 million US jobs and pays more than one sixth of all domestic wages. Indeed, in the US retail has more finance jobs than Wall Street and employees more engineers than Silicon Valley.

So it is against this backdrop that the Expo begins tomorrow; mobile, analytics, Big Data, integration of social media, customer experience are sure to feature strongly and as ever it will be fascinating to learn how the retail industry is using technology to drive value and sales.

Never before has it been so crucial for retailers to win a share of our wallets and as the competition to do so becomes ever tougher, so does the innovation displayed by retailers.

Omni-channel has come and gone; “always-on brand immersion” is the key for retailers; how they hope to achieve this is what I hope the next two days will help to reveal.


NRF 2014 Day 2: Two new friends

I made two new friends at NRF 2014 today; Loyalty and Mobile – The Power Couple. NRF 2014 certainly didn’t disappoint today as it stepped up a gear with the 1st of two days of the best and biggest retail Expo you will find anywhere. 

So what is the significance of Loyalty and Mobile? The main themes of the 103rd National Retail Federation emerged today and although they might be seen as expected the emphasis, evolution and maturing nature of them is the stand out aspect this year.

Just walking the floors of the huge Expo today, it was striking how strongly the overriding theme for me was such a stand-out: customer experience. It seemed as if everything led to this and was just fascinating to see how many offerings are now directed towards either understanding and measuring the customer experience or to enhancing, improving and downright revolutionising it. A walk down 5th Avenue demonstrated just how imaginative retailers now are in the ever present battle to win a share of our wallets. Elegant, stylish simplicity, sprinkled with a touch of fairy dust seems to be the norm now and it can make for an engaging, stimulating experience. Plenty more to be seen and heard tomorrow at Retails BIG Show so look out for more on this tomorrow.

So what of our friends Loyalty and Mobile? The former is fast becoming the Holy Grail of retail and the latter is a key way in which to achieve this. Indeed, mobile is another fundamental theme of this years’s Show. And it is also clear that for many retailers they are having to play catch-up with their customers who have long since expected that retailers will not only be always-on and readily available but that any and all touchpoints will be consistent and seamless. Generation Y and in particular their successors are primarily driving this. Those retailers who do not employ 18 and 19 year olds as part of their strategic planning for the present and the future are losing out. To the extent that it is interesting to observe that grey haired retail professionals are still using the term “omni-channel” whereas many of their customers, even if they were aware of this concept, have long since moved on.

Always-on brand immersion to drive loyalty and therefore sales has never before been so critical to retail success. But here’s the challenge: even once a retailer recognises the need, legacy IT presents perhaps the biggest challenge of all. Seamless, holistic customer experience and more importantly, single customer and business views are not easy to achieve. But all the while the consumer expectation is running far ahead and in some cases is little more than a rapidly disappearing dust cloud on the horizon.

Never before has retail been more exciting, never before has it been more challenging.


NRF 2014 Day 3: The 900 pound gorilla

From a sleepy startup losing tens of millions every month, who has emerged as the strongest competition for retailers? Yes, that’s right, Amazon. In the US, last year alone 180 million people bought 3.5 billion items*. That’s the equivalent of every adult in the US buying an item from Amazon every week………every week, for the entire year. Amazon isn’t a company you want to go and hug, it’s a company that does what it says on the tin. And people like that – a lot.

So I was interested to learn at NRF how bricks and mortar retailers (and of course those who have multiple channels) are fighting back to gain their share of the market. Do traditional retailers with a store estate have any advantage over a pure play online retailer such as Amazon? The results are fascinating and there was much discussed and shown at NRF on this very subject. Indeed, store experience was one of the primary session tracks demonstrating the relevance and interest in this. What are shoppers behaviour patterns? Does the baby boomer generation shop – and therefore engage with retailers – in a different way to the new millennials?

Customer centric retailing was a term used at the conference, which seems appropriate, after all, a consumer doesn’t walk into a store thinking “I want a really great omni-channel experience today!” What emerged is that baby boomers do indeed have different expectations to millennials. Whilst baby boomers want to engage in a store, to be able to feel and touch the product, millennials want the convenience and power that comes with shopping online – typically mobile online.

So whilst baby boomers prefer the emotional engagement, millennials simply seek a functional engagement. So where does this leave bricks and mortar retailers? Well, the good news is that the holistic customer experience has never been more important. And in delivering a really great customer in-store experience what is the most critical factor to success? The store assistant. Never before has the store assistant played such a vital role in driving the success of multi-channel retailers.  Instant ownership and the touch and feel element of shopping in store remain very strong differentiators over pure play online retailers. The fact that Amazon cannot compete with “I can just get in my car and get it” remains a key factor.

But does this mean that millennials are a lost cause for retailers? No, the instant ownership still appeals to them however the window of opportunity to capture the loyalty of millennials appears to be closing fast. And in order to win that loyalty and avoid it permanently being lost to online, all aspects of the store, from layout to lighting to design to flow to product availability to engagement needs to be compelling. But above all else, the message from the conference was that the store assistant is the key to unlock all of this. The expectations of this vital role have never been higher.

Bottom line: a paradigm shift will see the workforce as a competitive advantage rather than a cost of stacking shelves. This is great news for consumers – always-on brand immersion will drive customer experience to new levels. Roll on NRF 2015!


 *Source: WD Research


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