10 takeaways at NRF 2020

I had the pleasure of participating in the NRF big show 2020 at New York City early this month. NRF for the uninitiated is the National Retail Federation, the trade association for members engaged in all phases of Retail industry. The big show is the annual event bringing together the largest community of people engaged in all phases of Retail. It is a great event to shop or sell new Retail capabilities, hear and learn from the experts and their success stories and to network. The theme for this year’s NRF big show was “Vision” – an opportunity for all the participants to share visionary ideas, build visionary partnerships and experience visionary technology. The big show 2020 was exactly that – visionary.

The big show has a plethora of things to offer and see, but you can only be at one place at one time although the desire is to be everywhere. Here are 10 things from the NRF big show 2020 that are my takeaways or was a reinforcement of what I believe.

1. Retail is well and healthy and that is happy news. The Retailers who have adapted to the changing world have mostly reported a marginal to modest increase or been at least flat year to year in 2019. I even remember an expert saying at last year’s big show that flat is the new high and will be for the next few years to come. The holiday season provided a strong push for most Retailers in the US to close the 2019 positively. Brick and Mortar stores are still relevant and reinventing.

2. Unified Commerce was the key word I noted in several sessions. This is the term used for superior customer and store associate experience by connecting all inventory and customer data across all channels of online, store, mobile, kiosks etc. Unified Commerce is to provide a consistent and personalized experience with every interaction for the customer and a complete understanding of the customer to the store associates during that interaction. This is all about putting customer first and breaking all barriers between internal silos of channels for the Retailer

3. OMS + POS on a common data model is key to Unified Commerce. A section of experts believe Unified Commerce requires POS to move beyond being a transactional system and move towards a customer engagement platform. A POS built on an OMS platform helps build a retail network and each store becomes a supply chain node with inventory visibility and access to fulfill items from all stores, DCs and suppliers. It empowers store associates with a single view of customer orders and profile across channels. An example provided was that not many Retailers can allow a customer walking in the store to complete a store purchase, a purchase for shipping a product to home and a purchase for shipping a product to home that is currently not available in the store but available at another store or DC all in one transaction. Honestly, I have not seen this experience in a single transaction myself. The OMS + POS appears to be the answer and here I had my aha moment and made me proud being an IBMer. IBM’s Sterling product suite is just this and interestingly called Point of Commerce and not Point of Sale.

4. Re-Commerce was a new term I heard and caught my attention. The returns rate for most retailers is as high as 25% for online sales. Retailers must find new ways to Re-Commerce the returned product. In addition, the customer expectation around the returns experience is crucial to future business. A few Retailers are using the returns experience and converting it into a profitable opportunity. Retailers are finding new optimization techniques to make returns a profitable opportunity. Customers returning products at stores are being offered, discounts, coupons etc. Retailers are finding new ways to make sure all returns do not have to go through the store or DC but redirected to channels for resell and smartly termed as Re-Commerce. A few startups seem to be doing interesting work in this space

5. RFID has been around and its adoption has swayed like a pendulum. Hot at times and cold at times. The use cases for RFIDs were limited in the past. The number of use cases are manifold now and not limited to tracking inventory and preventing pilferage. It was interesting to note the experts claim that RFID will not give Retailers an advantage, but not adopting it will leave the Retailer with a competitive disadvantage especially in Apparel segment as it affects the bottom-line. RFID use cases now have game changing opportunities for the Retailer

6. A section of experts predicted that 2020 will be the year for innovation in improving the speed of last mile delivery. The prediction is several Retailers will improve on their same day delivery to hours or some Retailers unable to do same day delivery will move closer to the same day delivery. A number of large Retailers are engaging with vehicle manufacturers and startups for innovation in this space

7. Human centricity was another prediction for 2020. Increased focus on the customer and Retail associates and an overall improvement in all aspects of engagement with humans at the center for meaningful experiences or reimagining experiences

8. Increased adoption of AI / ML was no surprise. The concurrence amongst experts was Retailers are still scratching the surface with a few use cases and 2020 and the next few years will see a big momentum in this area

9. Increased adoption of AR / VR at furniture Retailers to accelerate product launches, increase conversion rates, reduce returns and provide a superior customer experience and improve employee satisfaction. A number of popular furniture retailers showcased their success stories

10. Research Online Buy in Store (ROBIS) has become the norm with Gen X, Y and millennials. This is again no surprise

Of course meeting past and current clients, colleagues and friends and meeting new people was a pleasure. And New York City and it’s energy is endearing as always

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. Very Well encapsulated Shekar! An interesting read indeed! While adoption of new-age technology and its convergence is key message, interestingly, most of the retailers (who have adopted new age-technology) are yet to realise returns on investments. To maximise top-line numbers, going “back to basics” and refining certain definitions (customer and consumer loyalty, inventory churns, supplier collaboration etc) might be a good idea.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: