What to look out for at NRF 2018

The conference

Arianna Huffington, (the) Tommy Hilfiger and CEO of Walmart, Doug McMillon, are just a few of the headline speakers on the agenda who will grace NRF's keynote theatre to address a predicted 35,000 attendees.

Essential Retail will be reporting from the conference all next week, bringing you the latest from some of the biggest names in retail.

Face-to-face catch ups

Doug Garner, CIO at River Island, is hopping across the pond to NYC next week so he can have a face-to-face catch up with the many technology providers he is working with.

He tells Essential Retail: “We do a lot of business with US-based companies, so NRF gives us an opportunity to connect with the people behind the scenes. Oracle gives us access to people within their cloud team and all the people I need to talk to, as does Manhattan and Microsoft. It’s an opportunity to get to people we wouldn’t see on a regular basis in the UK.”

Artificial Intelligence

River Island’s Garner points to AI as what he expects to be one of the biggest trends at NRF 2018:

“It’s good to see the latest and great pieces of kit and to see the trends which are happening, because it confirms you are on the right track. I rarely see anything completely new, but it helps when you see the emphasis on technologies you are [working on],” he says. “Like AI, which is probably the most important thing retail will be investing in going forward – it will touch every part of our business and will have an enormous impact on retail.”


Last week saw some of the worst winter weather to hit the east coast of the States for decades – a winter hurricane no less! It even beat NRF 2016 when our Essential Retail editor got stuck in the snow. The forecast is looking much friendlier next week, but the biting cold of New York in January is always a shocker to us Brits, so layer up and pack your thermals just in case.

The sexy technologies

RBTE event director, Matt Bradley, wants to learn about the latest and sexiest technologies impacting the retail sector.

“I want to see NRF’s vision of robotics, will they be used in-store or in the back office? How are retailers using this technology? Are there even any retailers investing in this yet? I’m also keen to see how the industry is making further steps to finding out about the customers that walk into the store. How are retailers identifying these customers and personalising their services?”

He adds: “I’m also looking forward to furthering my understanding of American Football, every year I learn a little bit more – by 2023 I might know everything.”

Store reinvention

Richard Willis, UK business director at Aptos, expects to see the physical retail store being championed at NRF 2018:

“While we’re seeing a rise in digital retailers, the physical store has an important role to play. It has the opportunity to be the retail centrepiece and it is vital that brands restore its relevance and broaden offerings. In a new era of retail, shopping will only be one aspect of the in-store experience. Technology, entertainment, social media, hyper-personalised selling and value-add services, play a role in the new store engagement equation,” says Willis.

“As consumer spending habits evolve rapidly, retailers will need to re-examine and evaluate their brand promise and reflect on how they can stand out from a highly competitive crowd. The use of ‘digital’ opens up the opportunity for retailers to bring cutting-edge tools, apps and technologies into their store environments - but this is no silver bullet. Considering what you are selling, who to, and what is critical to effective and long-term customer engagement.”

Don’t forget to visit Aptos at booth #3306.

Voice commerce

Ed Bussey, CEO of Quill, tells Essential Retail that conversational commerce and voice shopping will continue to dominate in 2018. He expects voice to feature heavily at this year’s show:

“With the release of Google Home and multiple devices powered by Amazon’s Alexa, the prospect of using voice assistants to shop is fast-becoming an affordable reality. Currently, these devices are primarily used for generic informational searches (e.g. weather updates) but the introduction of screens for visual display is likely to be the game-changing advance that makes them suitable for online shopping... a crucial feature, particularly when shopping for considered purchases like clothing,” he explains.

“It’s likely that people will begin to treat voice assistants as they would treat shop assistants in stores, asking for information on trends and products and details of holiday destinations, for example. Retailers will need to keep this top of mind in 2018 – ensuring that their product and category content is of the highest integrity – if they want to avoid delivering an off-putting voice shopping experience with wrong (or non-existent) answers to customer queries.“

Conference snacks

The #NRFSnacksWatch is back this year, as we subject our British palates to the weirdest snacks in town. From sugar-laden Snapple and Cheetos that give your skin an orange hue, to the baffling array of Trail Mix on offer. Join in the Twitter hashtag to share your delight/disgust at the snacks availble at NRF.

Augmented reality becomes real

“NRF always provides a real shot in the arm for the global retail industry and I’m certain this year will be no exception,” says James Pepper, technical services director at Vista Retail Support.

After several years or hype around virtual reality, this year he expects to see some “mind-shatteringly brilliant VR applications”.

“But for the time being AR is going to be where retailers see the strongest level of day-to-day practicality,” he suggests.

“Combining reality with the artificial images generated by the software NRF will show everyone how much more advanced the software designers are this year in helping shoppers make exactly the right purchase.  Smart mirrors and 3D smartphone applications using AR have been around for a while, but I expect this year they will be taken that extra step forward toward sophistication, practicality and affordability. Prediction is a precarious game and NRF always has the capacity to come up with an application that holds your attention but which you had no idea about before you entered the hall. I’m sure that will be as true this year as any other.”

Keep an eye out next week for Pepper’s on-the-ground analysis of the show, exclusively for Essential Retail.

The NRF parties

Monday night is the night for party hopping, with all of the big vendors hosting their annual NYC bashes on the middle day of the conference – the conference even starts an hour later on Tuesday at 9.30am to give all of us an extra hour to sleep off those cocktail-induced hangovers (or frantically write up news stories if you’re at the show on a media pass)!

Our very own RBTE is hosting a shin-dig with McDonald Butler and if you are one of the lucky people on the very exclusive guest list, we’ll see you for a drink at the bar. We’ve been told the party goes on until 4am, so if you see us the next day at the conference, please be kind and bring us coffee... and maybe some Cheetos.

Safe travels and see you next week at NRF 14-16 January 2018.