The world’s largest retail conference and expo has just concluded in New York, with NRF 2020 Vision drawing a bumper crowd of 40,000 attendees from 100 countries, representing 16,000 retailers.
Featuring keynote speakers like Satya Nadella from Microsoft and Erik Nordstrom from Nordstrom’s, this year’s Big Show was all about technology, sustainability, diversity and the future ahead, with the key message that retail is alive and well, but changing rapidly.
Here are five highlights from the three-day event.
Retail is alive and well
Opening the conference on January 12, National Retail Federation (NRF) Board Chairman, Chris Baldwin, told attendees retail was alive and well, but changing quickly.
He noted massive investment had been made in technology over recent years and for many retailers that was paying off, particularly in the arena of customer satisfaction.
Backing this claim, he cited NRF statistics that indicate 83 per cent of customers say convenience is more important than it was five years ago, and 60 per cent say retail’s investments have improved their shopping experience.
The power of data in retail
Microsoft’s Satya Nadella was this year’s opening speaker, talking on the topic of data and its use in retail.
Nadella noted the sector produces a prolific amount of data, amounting to 40 terabytes per hour. The question is what will the industry do with it?
Well, they’ll use it to know their customers, empower their employees, reinvent business models and improve supply chains, he reflected.
Nadella explained the future of retail involved individual operators taking control of and pride in their digital capability.
Meanwhile, in the hands of employees, data could be a game-changer, offering increased ROI, improving conversion rates and increasing customer satisfaction.
In terms of marketing, data equalled power, he noted.
“We have to change the dynamics here. You have to change the dynamics,” he said.
“You have, as retailers, the most valuable asset: commercial-intended consumer behaviour data. The question is, how can you, through your marketing efforts, convert that into effectively new online advertising channels that could benefit every brand, every supplier. This, to me, is perhaps what’s needed to reshape retail.”
Embracing inclusion and diversity
Today’s consumer is more diverse than ever before, and Bonobos and Universal Standard executives offered an insight into meeting that challenge.
They noted the industry is in the grip of change where inclusion will be part of the conversation – whether it relates to body size, gender identity, culture, or politics.
“I think what’s interesting is how fashion can help express the entirety of who they are,” Bonobos CEO Micky Onvural reflected. “We want to create a world where we all fit.”
Universal Standard provides clothing lines ranging in size from 00 to 40, with co-founder Alexandra Waldman noting retail was at a “tipping point”.
“Everything is about to be different, and we want to be part of that change. We want to spearhead the inclusion of everyone in the conversation, which has never been done before.”
Meeting the customer on their terms
Nordstrom co-president Erik Nordstrom took to the stage for an interview about serving the customer on their terms.
He noted digital versus online was barely relevant with a consumer. Instead, customers go back and forth looking for a singular experience.
More than half of Nordstrom sales have an online component and over one-third of its online sales involve a store experience, but the reason for having a physical store has changed significantly, he said.
Nordstrom explained stores need to be more experiential and not just about picking up an item. In Nordstrom’s case, that’s led to innovations like a bar in a flagship store shoe department.
“People are smiling,” he said. “Strangers are talking to each other. We think a lot about shoes. I don’t know why it took us so long to put drinking and shoes together, but it’s a great combination.”
Catering to ethical expectations
Sustainability is becoming a major driver of consumer behaviour as customers bring their ethical expectations to the purchasing table.
Retail executives from cosmetic co Lush and lifestyle brand West Elm took part in a conversation on the issue, sharing their journey of sustainability and covering concepts like ethical sourcing, handcrafted products, fair trade and reduced packaging.
Both noted the importance of building relationships with suppliers and reflected how their commitment had evolved and grown.
“It’s been an evolution, and it’s been a journey,” West Elm’s Jennifer Gootman explained. “I think for a lot of retailers that are really interested in this space, that’s important to recognise. Not everything happens at once. You can evolve and learn and figure out what’s material to your business and develop it from there.”