They don’t call it the Big Show for nothing. There were over 40,000 people in attendance from all over the world to talk retail, technology, strategy, and the future at the National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show hosted in New York City January 12–14. The conference featured a wide range of keynote speakers, including Gwyneth Paltrow, founder and CEO of goop; Paul Ryan, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives; and executives from many well-known retailers, like Microsoft, Macy’s, Target, and Best Buy.
Keynote speaker Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, shared his thoughts on the future of retail and how technology can help the industry evolve. He gave examples of well-known retailers, such as Starbucks and Home Depot, who are using technological advancements such as artificial intelligence and digital marketing to improve their customer experience. One of the biggest takeaways from this year’s conference is that technology can be an incredible tool to help retailers grow and improve, not the threat that it is too often perceived as.
Here are four of the biggest trends seen at the NRF Big Show that will impact retailers in 2020.
An Immersive Customer Experience
Though customer service has always been important, retailers are beginning to see the value in creating an interactive, immersive customer experience. A big part of this trend most likely comes from the competition of online retail giants, like Amazon, who can easily collect and use customer data to offer personalized shopping suggestions.
Retailers with brick-and-mortar locations who want to keep up with online retailers are learning that they can create a personalized customer experience in their stores as well by reframing shopping as “must-see content and one-of-a-kind experiences.” The growing popularity of pop-up stores and experiential retail reflects retailers’ increased attention to customer interest and satisfaction. Successful immersive customer experience campaigns integrate technology as both a tool and a marketing tactic to target younger audience and encourage engagement.
“RFID presence at this year’s show has increased. Not just in the number of solutions available but as an enablement for ‘retailtainment,’” said Paul Murdock, chief commercial officer at Nordic ID. “RFID combined with Bluetooth beacons and NFC can make for compelling consumer engagement.”
Artificial Intelligence on the Horizon
Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing from a tech buzzword to a tool that has become more present in the retail industry. The potential use of AI has grown in recent years and can be directly applied to all sectors of retail, from inventory management to security and loss prevention. Though there is some demand for automation and AI to replace the human element of retail, AI can be more useful as a supplemental tool to increase operations efficiency and understand customer data.
As mentioned earlier, Starbucks is using AI to focus on human connection through its Deep Brew initiative. This project is a custom-developed, AI-driven recommendation platform designed to serve customers with relevant product recommendations across multiple channels, such as in-app ordering and digital menu boards. The AI in Deep Brew can learn and adapt to customer preferences and context, like category, ingredient price sensitivity, time of day, weather and location, over time.
During the conference I had time to sit down with Janet Jaiswal, senior vice president of marketing at ZineOne, which focuses on driving relevant, engaging, “in-the-moment” experiences using AI-based predictions that influence purchases and increase loyalty across all channels on a single platform. It was a great use of AI to drive customer engagement at a personal level.
“Retailers are starting to realize that competing on just products or service is not enough,” said Jaiswal. “Today’s AI-powered personalization platforms hold the promise of allowing retailers to differentiate themselves in a scalable manner, based on providing an experience where the customer feel valued and understood.”
“The opportunities to harness the power of AI and machine learning in retail was clearly displayed during NRF 2020. We are getting to a point where retailers can know what the customer needs or wants before the customer actually knows,” said Bobby Haskins, director of market development for retail asset protection at Auror. “From a customer experience perspective, retailers have the potential to leverage this technology to help them curate individual customer experiences.”
“Artificial intelligence was the passport to innovation entry to NRF 2020. Progressive retailers have determined that the vast amounts of data now being collected require intensive AI and machine learning treatments to surface insights that move the needle to growth,” added Tony D’Onofrio, an industry recognized retail and technology expert. “Ultimately, the winning retailers will focus on competitive advantage through differentiated immersive consumer experiences across channels.”
RFID Technology Is Actionable
Though RFID technology isn’t news to most of us, retailers are starting to recognize its potential value to an organization. With decades of research and development behind it, RFID is a proven and scalable solution that can be customized for any retailer. RFID technology is an excellent tool for retailers who want to improve the speed and efficiency of their inventory management in order to maintain accurate stock and provide a seamless customer experience.
Many retailers who are beginning to offer self-checkout in their stores have converted their locations to be 100 percent RFID enabled from the store entrance to the stock room. Implementing RFID technology for self-checkout is the next step toward meeting customer expectations: According to a survey conducted by advanced weighing technology leader Shekel Brainweigh, 90 percent of consumers want self-checkout machines that can automatically identify items. At a smaller scale, RFID can also be used as a more advanced form of retail security while remaining scalable and cost effective.
“According to the new Store Experience Study that will be published by the end of January, inventory visibility is the second most important strategic priority for retailers in 2020,” said D’Onofrio. “As demonstrated by continued apparel industry adoption and higher visibility at NRF 2020, RFID is now in that sweet solutions spot of delivering tangible profitable results.”
Collaborative Efforts to Fight Cyber Security Threats
One of the biggest panels at the conference featured executives from Target, Chipotle, and Best Buy who discussed the power of cyber security industry collaboration. The speakers explained why it was essential for retailers to approach cyber security threats as a shared problem, not an individual threat.
Organized groups are one of the main sources of hacking attempts and data breaches because they have the resources to pursue the lucrative business of stealing customer data, like credit card information and bank account login credentials, to sell online. Just as ORC groups collaborate and hire skilled professionals, retailers who want to take cyber security seriously must also organize and work together to address these cyber security threats.
With over 18,000 retailers in attendance, the Big Show can be overwhelming, along with the huge number of buzzwords and flashy displays. It’s important for us to focus on what really matters in retail—innovation and the customer. I’m looking forward to a great year of continued progress and evolution in 2020.