I say this as both an analyst and a recovering retail professional: NRF is like drinking Red Bull . . . from a 50′ beer bong . . . for three days straight . . . on Jupiter. You just know what’s coming, but there is almost no way to prepare for the deluge of information you’re being asked to absorb in a very compressed period of time. #NRF2019 was no exception.

I sat down with numerous retailers and discussed their 2019 strategies: what is important to them, how they feel about the state of retail (and technology), and challenges they face in 2019. I also caught a few key sessions that I knew would generate some “buzz” at the event. From these, I was able to filter out several themes: those that are spot-on and those that are just downright crazy!

News Worth Knowing

  1. In 2019, tech that helps innovate the art and science of learning retail will have better business impact than retail learning the art and science of innovative tech. It’s time for retailers to stop dumping resources and money into trying to be tech firms — buy (don’t build) core technologies, and get back to focusing on customer connections (rather than custom tech connections).
  2. Data is the 2019 competitive weapon for retail — if you don’t have a data strategy, you won’t have a successful digital strategy. You cannot create great experiences for customers whom you don’t understand or manage a business that you can’t properly evaluate.
  3. Retailers’ biggest challenges in 2019 are nontechnical — the ability to change culture, break organizational silos, develop internal expertise, and harness insights-driven metrics will determine a retailer’s ability to execute its digital strategy. Dovetail your technical investment road map to an equally important change management road map.

Nonsense Worth Ignoring (Actual Quotes)

  1. “Stores are dead!” Take a moment to look at actual retail sales data before saying something like that. After 20-plus years of eCommerce, online is still just 15% of total US retail sales. In other words, we’ll all be dead before stores are.
  2. “The CMO/CIO roles are becoming one!” Yes, CIOs must understand business applications, and CMOs must become technically-savvy, but a single “CM/IO” role would likely turn a retailer’s organization into something resembling a freight train full of lemon juice crashing into 300,000 gallons of expired milk.
  3. “Welcome to 2019 — the year that robotics, IoT, and blockchain will transform retail!” Umm . . . no. Come find me at #NRF2020, and I will buy you a beverage of your choice at the Javits Center Starbucks if any of these three technologies truly disrupt retail and the customer experience in 2019.

I will, of course, be producing my annual Forrester top retail tech report for 2019 later in the quarter, in which I’ll outline the tech investment priorities of retailers in detail for the calendar year.