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The #NRF2020 Vision takeaways you need

Rebecca Moy

The human and the machine

Like every January, NRF’s retail “Big Show” brought tens of thousands of industry members together to set the tone for the rest of the year. Being at the start of a year and decade seemed to add more significance to this year’s edition.

Hello New York

While the 175+ sessions covered every aspect of retail, one thing is clear: From here on out, retailers will be focusing on humanity and technological innovation in equal measure, all in the name of getting closer to customers. And instead of existing in opposition, they’ll be mutually beneficial. 

Data-forward retailers are leading the pack when it comes to experience

Retailers were told that they needed data, and wow, did they listen.

While retailers vary in their ability to put it into action, data-forward leaders know what’s up. Drawing insight from data is the only way to achieve the personalization and convenience necessary for the highest level of customer experience.

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, summarized it nicely, “Data is only useful if you, in real time or near real time, can predict something better, can automate something better, you can gain an insight…that’s the true measure of your success with data”.

Satya Nadella NRF2020
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, gives the opening speech at NRF 2020 Vision | Photo: NRF

Case in point: In a session on winning the “experience economy”, Jennifer Hyman, Rent the Runway Co-Founder and CEO, said that data painted a picture of customers so exact that they could proactively offer specific styles to them as well as ease pickup and return.

Jennifer Hyman NRF 2020 Vision
Rent the Runway uses data to compete with the “closet you already have”. | Photo: NRF

Thanks to data insights, Rent the Runway is able to “work with customers 100 days a year” and compete with its biggest competitor, “the closet you already have”.

The outcome of AI is more human contact, not less

The fact that AI was mentioned in almost every single session we attended pretty much says it all. But instead of dreamy visions of an AI future, this year’s speakers hammered in the point that it’s already happening.

While applications are far and wide, noteworthy mentions are those which in AI is allowing retailers to humanize the retail and brand experience.

Case in point: In his keynote session, Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson described the brand’s “human-first digital strategy” including “Deep Brew” AI initiatives: Tech that lets stores automate processes like inventory and staffing calculations to convert saved time into better interactions with customers. Starbucks also hopes NLP will allow them to take orders sans devices to increase human interactions like eye contact.

Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson at NRF 2020 Vision
Kevin Johnson, Starbucks President and CEO, spent the first 32 years of his career in the tech industry. | Photo: NRF

Johnson says Starbucks wants to counter human disconnection created by technological connection by creating “third places” for human contact. This aligns with the brand’s long-standing mission “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

Retailers are putting their store associates on a pedestal, finally

In connection with the previous point, Target’s VP of Talent Acquisition, Damu McCoy said, “Retail is the biggest team sport out there.” No one knows this better than store associates.

Nike Store SOHO
Nextail joined Fieldworks on a store tour in NYC which visited Nike SoHo’s personalization bar.

As physical stores take on an essential role in the human channel of retail, their superheroes are their people on the floor. Speakers emphasized listening to employees with great attention and empowering them with tools.

Satya Nadella said, “Putting the right insights, data in their hands, empowering them is going to make a difference,” continuing that, “it’s perhaps the highest ROI thing you could do because you increase the conversion rate by 15% and you improve the satisfaction by 10%.”

Case in point: Alexa Geovanos, Brand President North and South America for Chloé said the luxury brand currently uses an omnichannel app that allows in-store stylists to assist customers digitally, ultimately driving customers into stores, minimizing returns, and inspiring future purchases.

It’s time to hold up a mirror to company culture: Innovation, diversity, and sustainability

The term “legacy” in retail implies outdatedness as opposed to historical wisdom. In addition to replacing legacy tech, retailers are rushing to refresh long-standing company cultures, often the breeding ground of resistance to innovation, diversification, and an overall inability to “get with the times”.

A culture of innovation doesn’t always appear out of thin air

Kevin Johnson aims to turn ideas into action at Starbucks within 100 days, which “can’t be done in a culture of fear of failure and avoiding risk”. This culture of innovation from the top is key to transformation, but not all retail leaders have 32 years of tech experience like Johnson. Many simply don’t understand innovation projects, making it hard to get them funded. The solution is education.

Becky Gebhardt, EVP and CMO of Popsockets
Scott Kelliher, Head of Brand Advertising and Partnerships eBay, and Becky Gebhardt, EVP and CMO of Popsockets | Photo: NRF

Case in point: Becky Gebhardt, EVP and CMO of Popsockets, spoke of her time at Land’s End. Educational “innovation days” helped (mostly older) executives at the brand to better understand digital technologies and in turn, invest in tech like AI, and data science and analytics teams. The success of this initiative led to an innovation lab and a culture of eagerness to adopt advanced technology.

Representation matters in retail leadership

Between call-out culture and the #metoo movement, retailers, especially in fashion, are being pushed to enact social change. Major topics at NRF this year were related to diversity and a fair and accurate representation of society within organizations.

Case in point: The consensus was that many companies are making strides in promoting inclusivity, but there are many opportunities to improve. In order to bring underrepresented groups into leadership positions, Tammy Sheffer, Rent the Runway Chief People Officer, spoke of sponsoring rather than mentoring women and people of color to spark actual change.

Diversity panel NRF 2020 Vision
Mercedes Abramo – Cartier North America, Tammy Sheffer – Rent the Runway, Shawn Outler – Macy’s Inc., and Shannon Schuyler – PwC | Photo: NRF

Damu McCoy said that if retail organizations feel they don’t have a large talent pool of underrepresented groups to choose from, they should “invest in the communities you want to see thrive.”

Damu McCoy
Damu McCoy, VP of Talent Acquisition for Target | Photo: NRF

Retailers can’t afford to be tone deaf when it comes to the environment

Case in point: Retailers at NRF went far and wide to reveal their environmentally ethical practices, whether they be fair trade agreements, the promotion of local economies through long-term sourcing, or avoiding efficiencies in their supply chain with AI.

According to Heather Deeth, Manager of Ethical Buying for Lush North America, the brand has always been committed to environmentally responsible practices, but are only talking about it now as it’s become a cross-generational concern. While Millennials have been more vocal about it, she sees a shift happening in the attitudes of older shoppers too. “We didn’t know then what we know now,” she said.


Nextail Team at NRF 2020 Vision

The team was thrilled to participate in NRF this year! If you didn’t get a chance to meet us in New York, contact us to find out how Nextail can transform your business, giving your employees more time to carry out the human channel of retail.

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