As if the close of the holiday season and cold weather weren’t enough to send retailers into hibernation, the NRF Big Show 2015 at NYC’s Javits Center was reason enough for the industry to take some well-needed R&R. The two-and-a-half day conference—attended by over 32,000 people this year—is hosted annually by the National Retail Federation and packed with an impressive line-up of retail experts, speakers, expos, panels and more. The event sets the stage for ‘Everything Retail’ in the coming year, giving attendees the latest and greatest in retail technologies, strategies, trends, and more. This year’s record-breaking attendance numbers brought added excitement to the event, which—despite the rain and cold—went off without a hitch.
Perusing the conference agenda is a worthwhile activity on its own, though a lengthy one at that. Retail bigwigs and catchily titled sessions like “Brick is the New Black” not only enticed but also disclosed larger themes throughout the event. Inside the Javits Center, the sheer size and number of entrance halls, expo booths and sessions made for Fitbit personal records and generated a unique experience for each attendee based on choice alone. Despite the Big Show’s variety and scale, some larger themes stuck out. The industry will again still be highlighted by omnichannel’s arrival, but new technologies will begin to present innovative opportunities for retailers at various touchpoints throughout the customer lifecycle. 2015 will be BIG indeed.
Notable Themes from the Event:
1. Store Renaissance: If there was one overarching theme at NRF 2015, it was the comeback of brick-and-mortar, but with a new purpose. WD partners summarized the new role of the store as two-fold: that of a fulfillment center and a social playground.[i] From curation to customization, store locations of the future must offer more than inventory. They need to offer memorable experiences, and technology is at the forefront of enabling this. Retail of the future will be ablaze with technology that fosters a unique experience. eBay showcased Rebecca Minkoff’s connected dressing room with an interactive mirror that allows the shopper to order anything from a different size to a variety of beverages. Other notable in-store technologies included design labs that let you create customized products for anything from fragrances at Selfridges to lip color at Bite Beauty Lip Lab[ii].
At the same time, stores of the future have to think of themselves as fulfillment centers. This past holiday, Lowe’s was able to offer by-Christmas ground delivery much later than most competitors by leveraging shipment from their stores.[iii] Moreover, “buy online, pick up in store” has grown tremendously in terms of customer preference as both retailers and customers have realized the benefit of leveraging an existing distribution channel.[iv]
2. Intentional Seamless Experience: Gartner describes present-state retail as the “Era of Intentional Innovation.”[v] This means every retailer must embrace technology to stay relevant. There are so many options for innovative services and products (as the Big Show’s EXPO floor demonstrated), but the retailer has to understand which ones are both profitable for their bottom line and meaningful for their customers. This can be a tricky paradox when it comes to entirely new categories of technology enabled experiences. For instance, when does in-store location tracking via beacon technology become too invasive for customers? Or would a BeamPro’s moving virtual associate creep a customer out? It’s hard to place bets on never before seen technologies, so it will be imperative for retailers to take risks and be prepared to fail, but to fail fast.
A safe bet many retailers are making is improving the customer experience in the call center. By using more channels, such as twitter, to connect with customers, retailers are able to respond more effectively to customer needs. North Highland is helping clients transform their call center into a “customer relationship center” by understanding how customers want to be engaged and using technologies, tools and techniques to enable a seamless interaction.
3. Social Media for Conversion, Community and a “See it First” Mentality. Birchbox co-founder, Katia Beauchamp, gives much credit to the social media community as a central force behind the brand’s rapid growth and continued success. The monthly arrival of beauty replenishments along with the trial nature of Birchbox product recommendations make for perfect social media banter and camaraderie. Referrals and reviews have always been a powerful part of the purchase decision, but social media has taken recommendation to another level. Real-time social media feeds like Twitter and Instagram have also become the chosen medium to premiere new products for many retailers while social media platforms like Pinterest and Wanelo drive conversion by sending users directly to the product page making internet searches a thing of the past.
The social media space can be overwhelming for many retailers. The social media command center is one way retailers are cutting though the noise. Social listening data and analytics provide insights that monitor what’s being said about a brand online and reveal customer attitudes and behaviors. North Highland’s Social Listening Lab does just this, enabling clients to analyze trends and uncover insights across social networks.
4. Millennials are a BIG Deal. WD’s presentation entitled “The Next Killer App—Stores, Winning Over the Storeless Population,” revealed just how different the demands of Millennials vary from their elders.[vi] Millennials expect convenience and experience on their terms and express a “need it now” mentality. When it comes to purchase influencers, they prefer unlimited options, customer reviews and instant ownership, respectively, above both price comparison and touch and feel. Millennials also exhibit different shopping behavior.[vii] They overwhelmingly prefer to shop online, though when it comes to brick-and-mortar shopping; Millenials embrace the store like a neighborhood coffee shop—sometimes treating it as a place to linger and enjoy, and other times making a quick run in and out to avoid being seen. Luxury millennial shoppers also behave differently as Barney’s Executive Vice President noted. Millenials show less brand loyalty preferring style and quality over big brands names.[viii] By 2020, Millennials will make-up 30% of retail shoppers, so for better or worse, retailers must beware.[ix]
Of course there are many more buzz words, gadgets and themes to be taken away from this year’s Big Show. One thing was clear—the energy and enthusiasm for retail in 2015 are high, especially coming off a very successful holiday season. While retailers may still be working out the kinks in their omnichannel network, it is an exciting new chapter for stores and shopping in general.
Want more insight into the NRF Big Show 2015? I have curated some highlights over on Storify with an overview of the event.
[i] Peterson, Lee. “The Next Killer App—Stores: Winning Over the Storeless Generation.” Retail’s Big Show. Javits Center, New York. 12 Jan. 2015. Lecture.
[ii] Stern, Neil. “Global Retail Innovation: The Latest Concepts and Ideas Driving Change.” Retail’s Big Show. Javits Center, New York. 12 Jan. 2015. Lecture.
[iii] Leiser, Jordy. “Lessons Learned From 2014 Holiday Shopping.” Retail’s Big Show. Javits Center, New York. 13 Jan. 2015. Lecture.
[iv] Peterson, Lee. “The Next Killer App—Stores: Winning Over the Storeless Generation.” Retail’s Big Show. Javits Center, New York. 12 Jan. 2015. Lecture.
[v] Roster, Jeff. “Exhibitor BIG !deas- From Moments to Journeys. Make each one Matter. Peterson, Lee. “The Next Killer App—Stores: Winning Over the Storeless Generation.” Retail’s Big Show. Javits Center, New York. 12 Jan. 2015. Lecture.
[vi] Peterson, Lee. “The Next Killer App—Stores: Winning Over the Storeless Generation.” Retail’s Big Show. Javits Center, New York. 12 Jan. 2015. Lecture.
[vii] Peterson, Lee. “The Next Killer App—Stores: Winning Over the Storeless Generation.” Retail’s Big Show. Javits Center, New York. 12 Jan. 2015. Lecture.
[viii] Woolsey, Mathew. “The Changing World of Luxury Retailing.” Retail’s Big Show. Javits Center, New York. 12 Jan. 2015. Lecture.