NRF 2018: Back To Basics…And That’s A Good Thing!

Brendan Witcher
Principal Analyst
January 22, 2018

This year’s NRF Show was a surprise, in that it lacked a lot of the hyped-up tech in year’s past (VR in 2017, Beacons in 2016, etc., etc.). That left plenty of room for themes and solutions to shine that let retailers improve in the areas of customer experience, operational efficiency, and incremental, bottom-line profitability. It was refreshing to see sessions by retail professionals showing that they are getting back to their core of being retailers, and realizing they need to optimize some fundamentals before moving on to more innovative (and as-yet unproven) ways of operating their businesses.

Some of the most important themes we heard taking hold in 2018 included:

  • To go from liabilities to assets, stores must now be experiential for everyone. From traditional retailers like Nordstrom to newcomers like Rent The Runway, retailers recognize they need to align the physical (store) environment to meet the changing expectations of today’s hyper-stimulated customer. This means investing in store designs that include tech investments to create, as one retailer shared with us, “Interactions before transactions.” And more retailers we spoke with this year are focusing on tech to improve both customer engagement and the operational capabilities of store associates.
  • Data – and everything associated with it – is the new competitive advantage. Data is now a required weapon in retailer’s competitive arsenal. Retailers have always had data, but many have failed to hone in on the right data or to create strong in-house skills to interpret the data. Furthermore, it is (still) the rarest breed of retailer that uses data to make strategic business decisions. At this year’s NRF BIG Show, attitudes notably shifted, with retailers now acknowledging that they had been trying to create great customer experiences without actually understanding those customers.
  • Got a digital strategy? You’re probably still in trouble. Most retailers we spoke with had at least a limited – if not holistic – digital strategy at the end of 2017. But when we dove deeper, we found that only some felt the right people were setting strategy, few felt they had the skills to deliver on their strategies, and nearly all still felt culture and organizational silos were getting in the way. At first glance, this may seem like a bad thing. But you can’t solve a problem you don’t recognize. By seeing they still have challenges, retailers are now better prepared to address and remedy these issues.

Coming up, watch out for our 2018 top retail tech report! Did you miss the big themes for retailers in 2017? If so, check out last year’s report, and our NEW “Masters of Top Retail Tech” report, which features retailers who found success using core technology in the last 12 months.

As always, feel free to schedule an inquiry to learn more. Also, be sure to connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter!

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