#NRF2019: What’s showing up at The Big Show?

It’s been straight into the retail event calendar with NRF 2019 The Big Show, which took place in NYC this week. The show was attended by the great and the visionaries of the retail world. It is always a great opportunity to hear not only about the trends emerging in the industry, but what is happening on the ground, and how retailers on- and offline feel about the year ahead.

Whilst everyone was very clear that the trading environment is as challenging as ever, particularly if you are a traditional retailer, there was nonetheless a lot of positivity around about the year ahead and the innovations coming along to reinvigorate the in-store experience. More retailers are coming to terms with how they can use their physical store as part of delivering an omnichannel experience, and therefore increasing the integrated brand value and profit delivered by those sites.

The bottom line is that stores are embracing digital and omnichannel; not tentatively, but with an aggressive determination. They’ve long known they cannot ignore digital; the challenge has been making it work. We will see many more retailers go live with a genuine – rather than pseudo – omnichannel experience over the next 18-24 months.  It will become mainstream on the high street.

      Electronic Shelf Labelling

We talked last year about the increased viability of ESL in store and how it can dramatically cut one of the biggest costs for retailers, whilst also allowing them to respond much more dynamically to competitor pricing and promotions – indeed out manoeuvre them with better promotions or offer personalised promotions to passing shoppers. Quality is up, integration is getting easier, and cost is down. In 2019, we will see this technology work its way into more live store environments, and we can expect to see ESL as a regular fixture in cutting edge retailers in years ahead.

Virtual shelves and personalised sizing

The mannequins’ days may really be coming to an end as we saw a number of examples of virtual shelves at this year’s event. Enabling retailers to create dynamic and interactive experiences for their product’s virtual shelves, not only create cost savings, but also enable a level of merchandising consistency across stores that simply cannot be replicated today. This is great news for suppliers who can be confident about how their products are being represented. For those installations where customers can interact with products, it should drive up sales while also allowing retailers and suppliers to learn about how customers interact and respond to their product offerings, enabling them to make refinements to promotions, POS, literature, or even the product design themselves. 

The rising role of the smartphone

We all know about the mass consumer adoption of the smartphone for online shopping. Over time, the device itself has become about so much more than the browser as apps bring rich new functionality. It is clear from NRF that this is about to leap forward again not just for the consumer, but the retailer too. The technology drivers for this are the advanced gyroscopes and accelerometers in today’s devices and imminent arrival of 5G in major geographies. New use cases seen at NRF include applications for deep analytics on the movement of shoppers around stores without additional hardware; applications that can choose sizes for shoppers from 3D scan or phone images, suggest accessories to complete the look from a photo, and even help logistics companies with packing box dimensions.

The devil is in the data and the decision maker

Whether it is omnichannel, or creating other new experiences in store, what is clear is that this whole new generation of retailing still must be underpinned by technologies that connect data right across the shopper experience, regardless of how the customer journey takes place online and in store and jumps between the two. Additionally, technology needs to make the business operationally aware, almost conscious, so it can understand and interpret the state of a promotion, business performance or the wider competitive environment in an instant.

The only way to achieve this is to remove the data silos that exist and embrace the idea that modern retailers live and die by their data.  A data silo can be the equivalent of a blocked artery, stopping the movement of information into the technologies and minds that make a real difference. Those technologies are machine learning, artificial intelligence and analytics. But they have to be applied via change management into digitised but still human moderated decision processes: from personalisation, to fraud prevention, dynamic pricing, category optimisation and customer insights. Without this foundation of human and machine, no retailer can expect to truly release the potential of omnichannel or ESL, and drive revenue growth in the years ahead.

NRF has offered a truly tantalising vision of how retailing will change this year, in 2020 and beyond for retailers that get their technology foundations right and marry that with human change management to take advantage. A journey worth taking that will continue to reward the leaders for the next decade.

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