As usual, NRF 2020 proved to be a “vision” of the future of retail. Walking in this year, you were greeted with the normal hustle and bustle, which is only appropriate for a New York City event, and excitement in the air.
While the overall theme and buzzwords of NRF normally tend to be technology-focused, which don’t get me wrong there was also that (AI, Machine Learning, Omnichannel), the overall message this year seemed to turn towards the people. This year’s conference brought a strong emphasis on employees, customers, culture, and community.
As Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson pointed out in his keynote, a large part of Starbucks’ success is the welcoming environment they have created and the connection between the employees and customers. His “Technology is meant to enhance, not replace human interaction” is something that all companies can take note of. It is easy to get caught up in all the latest and greatest, but your customers and employees should always remain at the core.
This doesn’t mean that we abandon all technology and go back to the old school ways of retail because let’s face it, with no customers, you would have no community to build, and in order to have customers, you need to give them what they need and fast. It simply means you must integrate technology into your overall customer experience in order to build that community. As David Dobson, Director of retail, hospitality and consumer goods for Intel, pointed out, the first wave of challenges for technology in retail was overcoming online retailers (Amazon, etc.) and now we’re entering the next challenge which is delivering value to the customer whether it is online or in-store- and merging those experiences.
Another theme at NRF was centered around having a strong understanding of data and AI, after all, that is what is going to help retailers gain a better understanding of their customers and make their inventory and supply chains more efficient. Even if retailers have good data, the challenge becomes knowing how to use that data in a powerful and useful way. Again, we come back to the fact that your customers come to your store for a product, stay for the experience, and come back for the relationship and loyalty they have built with you. If you’re not achieving that first step of ‘having the product’, then the journey ends quickly.
As wonderful as new technology can be, it was also refreshing to see retail starting to come full circle back to forming good customer relationships and developing a community for your customers.
Speaking of the theme of 2020, NRF itself proved to be the biggest proponent of its own theme. The conference itself once again included thousands of retailers, businesses and students coming together to share a love for the industry, share their experiences and discoveries, network with new people, and learn and expand their knowledge and if that isn’t the definition of community, then I don’t know what is.
Check out our full recap, as well as some interviews with our CEO, Kevin Stadler and SVP Product Management, Marsha Shapiro, here.