Big Takeaways from NRF 2018

This year’s “Big Show,” National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual event, did not disappoint. It featured big booths and big displays, together with exciting technology innovations. The big takeaways: digital transformation is accelerating and the retail store is alive and well.

So what are retailers envisioning?

“As we become a different kind of technology company, the people who are in that mix and in that process will be the way that we’ll win. The future of Walmart rests on its ability to increase value for customers, continue to offer the broad assortment of products they want and improve the customer experience.  “If we’re better at that than anybody else, we going to be here,” stated Doug McMillion, CEO of Walmart.

I agree, and that’s why three big innovations are going to be leading next-generation shopping experiences as retailer’s position themselves as a “new kind of technology company”. They’ll be the ones helping to turn stores into consumer destinations—which is what digital natives are signaling they want next.

Mobility Maintains Momentum

Today’s shoppers have everything they need at their fingertips. Yet, they still head to the mall and other retail establishments for experiences. And in-stores, brands are just scratching the surface when it comes to mobility. Yes, trends show store associates outfitted with anytime, anywhere devices—from smartphones to tablets—are driving top-line sales with endless aisles and instant inventory checks.  And yes, mobility is streamlining other key workflows from confirming inbound shipments and providing on-the-job product training to seamless communications between departments.

But today’s shoppers are still looking for more. And your brand is just the one to deliver it. What will you do to increase mobility’s part in omni-channel environments? To better connect workforces across stores? To be more consistent across environments? To better understand customers and build longer-term relationships? Customers are looking to use personal mobile devices to checkout seamlessly and receive promotional offers in real-time.

Your brand is literally in the palm of your customer’s hand. Now is the time to take advantage of that relationship by building new, different and more engaging mobile experiences. Prediction: It’s going to be another big year of opportunity for mobility.

IoT Innovation Increases
Sensors can literally be put anywhere. NRF proved it. RFID labels. Check. Beacons. Check. Digital displays, scanners, printers, and robotics. Check, check, check and check. Internet of Things (IoT) technologies make the vision of a connected store real. Now it’s up to brands to get creative about how to use IoT to incent shoppers without compromising privacy or security.

Imagine if you could use an RFID tag to automatically populate digital displays in a fitting room. You could show complementary products and sale items based on shopper loyalty data. Come on, who doesn’t like a recommendation now and again?  

Disruptive technologies, such as VMware Pulse IoT showcased at NRF, provide the infrastructure to help brands increase sales by driving specific shopper and associate behaviors. Decisions about what to upsell and how to build brand loyalty are best made by brand marketers. Executing on those strategies well is what technology leaders do. It’s a perfect combination, and prediction: one that is poised for big deployment in the coming year.

Get Ready for AI
Showcased in NRF’s Innovation Lab, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to benefit brands across the entire product and service cycle. We’re talking assembly to post-sale customer service interactions.

Imagine using AI in stores to gain accurate demographic data that allows you to understand exactly the type of shoppers engaging with your brand? If you had these insights, could you make better decisions about merchandise assortment or marketing campaigns? What about store designs and customer loyalty programs? AI says you can.

When brands begin to experiment with activity detection, which is basically understanding exactly what activities are happening inside the store, by whom, and how—it’s going to yield significant insights. And over time and at scale, this data will be integral to the development of new brand strategies that focus on differentiated shopping experiences. Prediction: Better experiences is what digitally savvy customers want, which makes betting on AI a big win for the future.

The “Big Show” is energizing. But the biggest benefit to attending is the part that comes next. With digital transformation accelerating and the retail store alive and well, these disruptive technologies are the path leading us to imagine, think, and deliver bigger and better than ever.

We’re ready. Are you?


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