16 things to look out for at NRF 2016

The National Retail Federation's Big Show 2016 is being held in New York City 17-20 January. Essential Retail, Essential eCommerce and RBTE will be hopping across the pond to bring you the latest news next week, but until then, take a look at our guide of what to look out for in The Big Apple. 

1. Steve Mader, vice president of digital retail insights at Kantar Retail, is betting on the Internet of Things (IoT) being one of the big themes at this year's NRF Big Show.

"As we saw in CES earlier this month, consumer devices and connected everything is huge," he tells Essential eCommerce, noting how the Wi-Fi Alliance has even introduced a new standard which will help IoT take off due to its longer range and lower power.

"I think there's been a lot of co-creation of these types of apps around smart connected devices, like the Samsung fridge, there's been one-to-one collaboration with device creators and manufacturers, but I see a bit of a middle-man play come in, like the MasterCard and Samsung partnership, which will facilitate scalability of IoT."

Using the smart fridge as an example, Mader says a supermarket would find it difficult to create applications for every brand of fridge. "But platforms living outside the hardware manufactures creates a more scalable opportunity for the retailers."


2. "I do joke there ought to be some form of Tinder app at NRF for vendors, to help decide if I'm going to visit them or not," laughs Spencer Izard, head of Europe at IDC Retail Insights. But on a more serious note, the analyst says 2016 delegates should keep a look out for any holistic conversations around technology – which may be few and far between at this year's conference.

"The show is all about the glitz, and there will be a lot of focus on digitising the physical store," he says. "And we'll see a lot of individual people selling technology, but very few will talk about it in a holistic manner and where the tech fits in.

"What I would hope to see – which I don't think I will – is more vendors talking about where their value is digitising the store, and that they're part of a larger opportunity with other vendors."

Izard says digitising a retail store requires more than one technology provider, but at the moment, there is not much collaboration apart from the odd partnership between vendors.

"Frankly, it is going to be a lot of shock and awe around customer experience technology, but all the retailers I know who are going – M&S, John Lewis, Tesco – are looking for the holistic conversation. It's very easy to get really excited about digitising the store, but it's the deployment of the technology which is a big commitment.


3. Snow! Maybe? Hosted in New York City in January, NRF is often a health hazard to us soft Brits, with temperatures dropping into the double-digit minus figures. But so far this year it is looking surprisingly mild. We still advise to pack your thermals though, just in case.


4. Robert Hetu, retail agenda manager and research director at Gartner, says he is seeing a great sift in retail technology at the moment.

"After the holidays, I expect to see many retailers running around looking for magic bullets."

He predicts the NRF Big Show 2016 will be showcasing solutions for advanced and behavioural analytics, cognitive systems and robotics, as well as the Internet of Things (IoT) and algorithmic approaches to merchandising and pricing.

Additionally, retailers will be looking at how to provide customers will real-time offers in the realms of mobility, as well as mobile payments and the security to back these things up.

"Meanwhile, I expect an overwhelming emphasis by the vendors on cloud, IoT, advanced analytics and mobility," he adds. 


5. American food of gigantic proportions – we are in the USA after all. And once you've walked miles across the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, it'll be completely justified to chow down on a pizza three times the size of your own head or a stack of pancakes as tall as the Empire State Building.


6. You won't be able to miss over 30,000 NRF delegates wandering around Manhattan with their lanyards and badges pinned to their chests. This is a BIG show, in an even bigger city, which can catch even the most experienced conference-goer off guard, never mind the out-of-towners and NRF virgins. But if you're a Londoner, use your tube technique to dodge and weave through the delegates walking at excruciatingly slow tourist speeds. 

7. Demandware's insight VP, Rob Garf, says: "Vegas is taking wagers on the number of times vendors will mention omnichannel, unified commerce or intelligence…what’s the over/under?"

8. Bryan Roberts, global insight director, TCC, says he's looking for something a bit more meaningful this year. "There's a good degree of 'the emperor's new clothes' at events like these, but we are starting to see some meaningful technology emerge like payments, wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT)," he explains.

But Roberts points out that getting excited about all the fantastical technologies means we tend to admire them through rose-tinted glasses. "We're in danger with these types of things, viewing them through our urban, middle-class, affluent perspective, when globally 99% of retail occurs without any sort of digital aspect, so it is important to remain grounded about the cutting edge."

He uses payments as an example, pointing to how most of the world uses cash. "It was unimaginable 15 years ago to use contactless or your smartphone, but it is becoming mainstream in markets like the UK and Nordics, but it is still beyond the wildest dreams of most countries and it is important to keep a sense of perspective.

"The progress of payment technologies ultimately relies on the different banks and technology providers collaborating, but they're still fairly territorial and not putting the shopper first. It will involve some people swallowing their pride and forward thinking in terms of commercial arrangements before we get into a VHS versus Betamax faceoff – and ultimately customers vote with their feet."

9. Matt Bradley, event director at RBTEbelieves that like RBTE, NRF is the place to be to bear witness to the birth of new ideas in retail technology. "This is where you see what the US industry is saying will be the future of retail," he says. "We head along to NRF to discover the latest suppliers providing the infrastructure to support these future retail scenarios, and compare the US trends with UK and European trends which we see at RBTE.

"My tip for a successful NRF is to book up your diary and don't waste a minute. Oh, and take advantage of Central Park on your doorstep with a run to clear out the cobwebs from the multiple parties you attend over the course of the week."


10. An hour-long queue at immigration. Be prepared. With so many people heading to The Big Apple for the show from overseas, immigration at the international airports can get pretty congested. The last thing you want after an eight-hour flight is to then be stuck in a queue to enter the country for another 60-yawn-inducing minutes. So save that last chapter of your book to read as you shuffle along the queue control barriers, because US border control does not allow you to use your mobile phone as you wait – and they're not the most friendly of officials. You have been warned. 

11. Crazy taxi drivers. NYC pro tip – DON'T tip yellow cab drivers in coins, only bills. Even if the tip adds up to the right amount, we've heard about the coins being thrown out of the window in disgust!

12. Don't forget the conference breakouts. There are keynote sessions on all three of the conference days, but as well as listening to the likes of MasterCard and Macy's, don't forget to have a rifle through the schedule and choose your breakouts. NRF breakouts are on the schedule as 'Exhibitor BIG !deas' sessions and there are so many to choose from, so take the time to sit down with a physical copy of the brochure and a red pen to circle what takes your fancy. From the UK, NRF is hosting House of Fraser's customer insight team on the Sunday for example, and the new managing director of Spar International, Tobias Wasmuht, is chatting about managing complex international models on Tuesday morning. Here's a link to this year's schedule.

13. Huge stands from the likes of Microsoft, SAP, NCR, JDA and Zebra Technologies. You could get lost on these stands, but the Jacob K. Javits Center is big enough to hold them with 840,000 square feet of exhibition space occupying six city blocks (pro tip: wear comfortable shoes). But our advice is to keep a couple of hours in your diary free to get lost and find the little guys with a unique technology solution which will make a difference to your business. Here's a link to the exhibition map for 2016. 

14. Ear muffs. Did we mention NYC gets very cold in January? Last year, the Essential Retail and RBTE team hit up the street vendors to protect their ears. "It was the best $5 I've ever spent," admits Matt Bradley, event director at RBTE.

15. The drunk executives. With a big conference comes the big parties. And with most of the vendors holding after parties in the dizzying heights of Manhattan's skyscrapers, the views alone are hard to turn down. 

We'll see you at the bar. 

16. Fred Soneya, co-founder of the start-up investor programme Haatch, says it's all about the networking.

"I’ve met so many people at the big show who I meet year and year again  and it’s a great opportunity to talk business and pleasure, especially when the food and drink is so good! If you think NRF finishes at 5pm, you’re doing something wrong."