The future of retail

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The future of retail

Highlights of the NRF’s Annual Convention and EXPO

NRF’s top notch event, the 106th Annual Convention & EXPO (15 – 17 January 2017), hosted nearly 35,000 attendees. Among them were Deloitte’s Victor Hoong and Jochem Dragt, who captured the highlights and share them below. What trends and themes will impact the retail industry in the near future?

Sharing our experience

If you are anxious to find out what the future of retail is going to be like – and who isn’t? - the NRF’s Annual Convention & EXPO is the place to go. At this retail congress, which is definitely the most important and biggest of its kind worldwide, 87 of the top 100 retailers were present to expand their knowledge and their network and find out about innovations and technology. This is exactly why we went here – to share with you what we saw and heard: the big changes on the horizon, revealed by industry leaders, visionaries and pioneers, that will challenge and inspire you, and encourage you to enhance the in-store experience and other important trends.

Retail and society

Although not all trends are related to technology. One of the most striking themes of this year’s event was in fact the connection of retail to society. Which makes sense, since retail is the number one employer in the US. Changes in retail impact a large part of American society. We were very much impressed by Sir Richard Branson (founder Virgin Group), who was one of the key note speakers on retail and society. He pointed out that looking after your neighbor and society as a whole is just as important as doing business, and that in fact a bigger part of doing business should consist of educating people and making sure they can live a comfortable life.

Talent development

His inspiring words are relevant for Dutch retailers as well. Even though retail is ‘only’ the number four employer in the Netherlands1, Talent – and therefore talent development - is an important boardroom issue here. If we, as an industry, want to move forward and fully embrace new technologies and offer excellent customer experience, we should definitely offer our employees excellent education and training. That is why the NRF has launched its career scheme called ‘Rise up’ (Retail Industry Skills & Education), a new training and credentialing initiative designed by the retail industry to help people acquire the skills they need to secure jobs in retail and advance into promising careers.

Consumer experience

Unsurprisingly, the theme of consumer experience came through strongly again this year. We all know how consumer behaviors and expectations have changed dramatically driven by digital technologies. At the conference, new technologies to engage the consumer and create new experiences took center stage and NRF attendees were able to learn how artificial intelligence and machine learning can help them to optimize the consumer offering e.g. through product placement and pricing & discounting. In the EXPO Hall, they could experience how to order supplies in natural language using the IBM Watson platform.

Virtual reality and personalization

Another quite exciting phenomenon at the event was the simulation of a 3D environment. Wearing a beehive headset, attendees were able to experience a virtual store environment. Also, the latest developments in 3D printing, AI, AR/VR, robotics and wearables were on display. For instance, there was a fulfilment robot that could pick, box and bag various products at high speed, allowing retailers to offer customized and personalized products and services at the same speed as mass production. It was very impressive to actually experience how these innovations dramatically improve consumer experiences.

Destination of choice

It might take a while before these trends conquer the Dutch retail industry, but it is good to be aware of what is around the corner. An event like this makes you aware of how important it is to discern what areas are most interesting for your business, what challenges and risks are involved, and what strategy will work best. That will make your business agile enough to prepare for disruption and new competition coming our way, or, on a much more positive note: to use new technologies to become the destination of choice, creating more customer loyalty and engagement. For more inspiration, watch the video or read the publications we have listed below.

Video impression - NRF 2017

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