Each year in January the biggest and brightest in retail come together to discuss the state of the industry and prepare for the year ahead. The National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show is just that – BIG, really big. More than 38,000 attendees, 16,000 retailers, 800 exhibitors, from 99 countries. With more than 200 sessions, all that activity can be overwhelming so we rounded up a selection of the top buzzworthy trends:
The “retail apocalypse” was overstated
While so many recently claimed retail was collapsing, the industry is alive and doing quite well. According to Mastercard Spending Pulse report, 2018 holiday sales increased 5.1 percent to more than $850 billion this year – the strongest growth in the last six years. Online shopping also saw large gains of 19.1 percent compared to 2017.
This was echoed in an opening speech by BJ’s Wholesale Club Chairman, President, and CEO Chris Baldwin. He asked the crowd, “Who remembers 2016?” The year that sparked the “retail apocalypse,” with numerous store closings, bankruptcies, and layoffs.
“I would love to say that retail is back, but that would be wrong,” he said. “Retail never went away. As I stand here today, I can say that our industry is more healthy, vibrant, innovative and exciting than ever.”
Even though many big brands opted to close physical stores, many shifted resources to online and digital initiatives to help capture the modern consumer. Additionally, digitally native brands including Casper, Adore Me, and Allbirds are set to open more than 850 stores in the next five years.
Personalization + omnichannel approach = better customer experiences
Improving the customer experience surfaced as one of the top priorities for retailers in 2019. Forrester analyst Sucharita Kodali teased the upcoming report State of Retailing Online survey, noting that personalization is a hot topic but data collection remains a customer concern. We wholeheartedly agree and you can read about our recent personalization report in WWD.
Numerous speakers including Walmart CTO Jeremy King and Redpoint Global’s VP of product strategy Patrick Tripp, who noted that “customers expect a consistent in-person and digital experience and will go elsewhere if it’s not met.” Tripp continued, “To do it, though requires an organizational-wide single view of the customer and systems that leverage real-time data. It’s why we see 89 percent of digital businesses investing in personalization to align with customer expectations.”
Visual technologies continue to rise and drive revenue
Technologies such as AR, VR, and shoppable content continue to gain ground with consumers engaging with brands on multiple platforms.
“New technologies, such as AI/machine learning and AR/VR, are being explored in more practical detail,” said Debbie Hauss, Editor-in-Chief, Retail TouchPoints. “Companies are moving beyond initial interest in the concepts and are implementing the technologies in real-world applications.”
MarTech Advisor says content is still king and that shopping by images and videos is fast becoming the preferred way for consumers to find products online. As many as 41 percent of more than 400 brands studied by Gartner and L2 have shoppable Instagram accounts.
This makes the case for outfit recommendations such as “Shop The Look,” and AI-driven style advice technologies that go beyond a single product recommendation to suggest an entire outfit based on what consumers are browsing.
AI is the “mega-trend” in retail
In a panel titled “The artificial intelligence revolution is here” Deborah Weinswig, CEO and founder of U.S. retail and tech consultancy Coresight Research noted that retail is going big on AI with $3.4 billion invested in 2018 (surpassing the banking industry’s $3.3 billion spending).
“Technology will continue to strip friction from brick-and-mortar retail and AI will become retailers’ go-to technology,” said Weinswig.
AI is seeping into every aspect of retailing from personalization to fulfillment and more. If used correctly, it can empower teams to make smarter decisions that will directly impact the customer and the bottom line.
The NRF teamed up with IBM’s Institute for Business Value to survey 1,900 retail and consumer products leaders in a report, ‘The coming AI revolution in retail and consumer products,’ The survey revealed that 85 percent of retail and 79 percent of consumer products companies surveyed plan to be using intelligent automation for supply chain planning by 2021.
“Retailers are increasingly using innovative technologies to offer new ways to shop both online and in-store and provide rewarding careers for employees. From reducing shipping costs and improving supply chain efficiency to personalizing shopping experiences and helping workers acquire new skills, AI technologies allow retailers to compete in the 21st-century economy and better serve their customers. This is what the future of retail looks like,” said NRF VP of Research Development and Industry Analysis Mark Mathews.
**Feature Photo: New York January 16: Impact happens together: NRF chairman’s welcome and opening remarks, Chris Baldwin, Chairman, President and CEO BJ’s Wholesale Club, NRF 2019 Retail’s Big Show.