The National Retail Federation’s Big Show was buzzing this week in New York as tens of thousands of attendees celebrated the encouraging growth of 2017 holiday sales, while gazing at next-gen technology offerings that promised greater personalization, engagement and enhanced customer experiences, further melding the physical and digital realms.
Throughout the show, there was a tangible sense of both expectation and optimism, as capabilities like artificial reality, machine learning and the Internet of Things have moved from interesting, sexy concepts to practical realities in a retail landscape that continues to shift.
While the closing of hundreds of stores at traditional chains like Macy’s and Sears and bankruptcies of other retailers dominated headlines in 2017, many at NRF noted with relief that the “retail apocalypse” narrative has not proven as accurate as some doomsayers predicted.
Yes, challenges remain and the shakeup will continue, weeding out broken old models, but several macro indicators are pointing north for retail and ecommerce in the near term.
Here are top three trends I saw while I attended the show this year:
A Single View of the Customer Becoming Reality
Using an increasing wealth of data, retailers are striving to get a single view of the customer across all touchpoints. While not a new concept, companies are making great strides in sharing data across functional areas to help them better understand customer wants and expectations. Many solutions and presentations at NRF focused on this trend.
Retailers are continuing their push to become digital-first companies, allowing even large enterprises to not only be more nimble and responsive to customer demands but also get leaner and gain efficiency in their operations.
For instance, Jennifer Hyman, CEO of Rent the Runway, told the audience at NRF that collection and analysis of customer data was making it possible to convince designers to work with them without cannibalizing their own sales.
AI, Machine Learning, Virtual Reality: Not Just Buzzwords Anymore
In 2017, we saw retailers taking small leaps with AI and machine learning. Now more and more retailers are taking bigger leaps and realizing the benefits of incorporating these technologies into their businesses.
Alibaba, for instance, recently created a 3D New York department store experience for smartphones, which was demonstrated at NRF during a keynote by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. The virtual reality experience was up for 11 days, Krzanich said, attracting more than 8 million users.
The Growing Convergence of Online and In-Store
Retailers are finding more innovative ways to connect the online and in-store experience. Rod Sides, vice chairman of U.S. retail and distribution leader for Deloitte, said 92% of consumers use their mobile device for shopping, 89% use them to watch video programming and 58% use them to access social media sites.
Sides said buying decisions are increasingly based on one-to-one connections between merchants and customers.