The NRF – a retailer’s paradise in the Big Apple

The National Retail Federation (NRF) Convention and Expo is undoubtedly the annual event for someone like myself.

In January 2018 we’ll be off to the Big Apple again (more info here), but in the meantime, here are some key highlights from this year’s visit.

Held every January in New York, the NRF Convention provides insight into new technologies, changing trends and an array of opportunities to meet and network with peers and colleagues. What an event – and 2017 was no different with over 35,000 attendees! The labyrinth of new technologies on offer at the Exhibition was staggering and the retail store safaris, which showcased some of the best physical store offerings New York has to offer, provided insight into how retailers are taking their stores to the next level.

What was abundantly clear is the retail landscape continues to evolve at an unprecedented rate, and staying abreast of new technologies is now not optional – it’s business as usual. Digital is no longer solely the domain of the online retailer – more and more it’s being embedded in bricks and mortar retailing to provide a consistent check point with the customer and an experience that will ensure the store remains as relevant as ever to today’s shopper.

There were so many takeaways from the NRF it’s hard to narrow it down, but for me, the five key emerging themes were:

  • Digital technology for the physical: Embracing new technologies is critical for bricks and mortar stores to stay relevant – novelty in-store technologies are now finally becoming practical technologies
  • Rise of the virtual and augmented reality: These technologies proliferated a multitude of stands at the NRF. There are some great ideas and we’re starting to see a few practical applications – but there is still more work needed before these become widespread.
  • Data analytics – but not as we know it: Data was everywhere to be seen, with an array of companies offering the ability to provide deeper and more insightful insights. The power of data is unquestionable and we are starting to see much better and accessible data analysis and insights. Customer insights are by far the most developed area of analytics available, but this is the tip of the iceberg. Where to focus your efforts on data analytics is key and will vary from organisation to organisation.
  • Personalisation: Data and new technologies are critical in being able to meet consumers’ demands for ever increasing personalisation throughout the customer journey. The ability to personalise marketing, products, delivery and experiences needs to be at the forefront of retailers’ investment strategies.
  • Changing workforce: The skill sets, knowledge and experiences of the in-store sales assistant require significant overhaul to remain relevant. New learning techniques and in-store technologies are allowing the in-store assistant to evolve with changing consumer needs and creating a different type of retail workforce.

Back in Australia, arguably one of the biggest stories for the retail sector in 2017 so far has been the rumoured arrival of US giant Amazon to our shores at some point this year. There’s no doubt the potential for major market disruptions is huge. We are already seeing several retailers setting up task forces to assess the potential impact of an Amazon market entry, but it’s not yet clear what exactly the company has planned for Australia. What we do know is that where Amazon has entered new markets, the impact on local retailers has been seismic, affecting almost all categories and channels.

While retailers can choose to compete on a number of levels, if they try to be all things to everyone, cracks will soon appear. Rather they should consider focusing on one or two key areas to differentiate themselves, for example, truly understanding their customer, demonstrating the ability to innovate. The NRF provided a brief, exciting peek into what the future could hold for retail and how retailers may get a step in front of the competition.


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