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Retail Technology Takes the Stage at NRF Retail's Big Show

Natalie Evans

By Natalie Evans

January 22, 2018

AI, Big Show, CRM, eCommerce, innovation, NRF

The NRF 2018 Retail's Big Show just concluded and there was a lot going on this year! At the three-day event which drew more than 600 exhibitors and featured sessions with top executives from Walmart, Levi Strauss & Co and Brazil’s Via Varejo and other major companies, discussions of Retail Technology took the stage! Here are some takeaways from the event.

Levi’s talks Innovation - In the first keynote of the day, Levi’s President, James Curleigh, discussed the company’s move to find points of strategic balance between delivering the expected (having products in store, providing a level of service) and surprising customers with the unexpected; between leveraging the brand’s heritage and acquiring new customers through innovation.

Curleigh, coupled the approach to that iconic eighties hairstyle, the mullet: “What did [the mullet] say? It said business in the front, party in the back. The new brand of Business Mullet should be simple in the front, sophisticated in the back.”

Instagram as a business tool - Instagram is increasingly becoming a platform through which businesses can engage with consumers for marketing and product development purposes. More than half of Instagram’s 800 million users connect to businesses voluntarily via the platform. Since the introduction of the Instagram Story feature, a third of the most-watched Stories have been uploaded by businesses.

Tyler Haney, Founder and CEO of active wear brand Outdoor Voices, said that her company has built a successful Instagram strategy by actively seeking customer opinions via Instagram throughout the product development process, a strategy that few retailers use. J.Crew and New Balance are among the brands that have utilized the “poll” sticker feature on Instagram to collect customer feedback, said Marne Levine, Instagram’s COO.

In e-commerce, international heavy-hitters invest in digital transformation - Speakers from Via Varejo, Brazil’s largest nonfood retailer, and Italian apparel retailer Calzedonia Group shared their e-commerce priorities. Both companies are seeking to offer better customer experiences through improved click-and-collect features, deliver better personalized marketing messages to multichannel shoppers and reduce delivery time for customers. Calzedonia is already able to offer two-day delivery in some key European markets. Matteo Molon, Calzedonia’s Head of E-Commerce and CRM, stressed that the company’s goal is to compete on services, not price, in e-commerce.

Keynotes - Beth Comstock and Arianna Huffington - Day two started out with insights from a couple of powerful female executives. Former Vice Chair of General Electric, Beth Comstock shared her take on how large organizations can survive and thrive in this new era of constant change. "Transformation means you’re never done. Volatility is the new normal,” Comstock told MSNBC anchor and business correspondent, Ali Veshi. She said that while retailers may be tempted to put everything on hold, while they “figure this one thing out”, that’s not an option anymore. Retailers need to become comfortable with many parts of the business changing all at once.

Later, Arianna Huffington, Founder of Huffington Post and Thrive Global, spoke about the importance of “switching off” from smartphones, email and social media from time to time.“We take better care of our smartphones than ourselves. We get so used to running on empty it’s the new normal,” she told Jo Ling Kent, a correspondent for NBC. Huffington has launched a new app that enables users to recognize how much time they spend on social media and helps wean them off.

The impact of AI - In one of the final sessions of the day, Kris Miller, Chief Strategy Officer of Ebay Marketplace, Silvia Campello, President and COO of intimates brand Cosabella, Chris McCann, President and CEO of 1-800-Flowers, spoke to Deborah Weinswig, Managing Director of Fung Global Retail & Technology about artificial intelligence (AI).
AI-Panel.jpgThe panel discussed how AI is transforming the retail space, improving business operations and, ultimately, delivering a more engaging customer experience. Weinswig kicked off the session by discussing the concept of New Retail, a term coined by Alibaba to refer to the next generation of consumer experiences. New Retail involves providing the best customer service, 24/7, no matter where the customer is, and delivering the product to the customer anywhere, at any time.

“We’ve hit a tipping point in our ability to train AI, along with massive increases in computing power. We can do much more with AI and deep learning…It will impact how consumers become aware of brands, how they browse, how they make decisions, how they transact and how they ship,” Miller said.
For his part, McCann believes that voice is the user interface of the future. “Mass adoption of these capabilities are happening really fast,” he said.

Tommy Hilfiger: The Power of Disruption  - The final keynote at the NRF Big Show featured iconic fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger speaking with IBM’s Michelle Peluso about technology and transformation at the iconic fashion label. Tommy Hilfiger was an early adopter of the see now, buy now trend in fashion and the first retailer to partner with Facebook Messenger on chatbots. The brand has embraced mobile shopping, such as ‘snap to shop’, and influencer marketing, striking advantageous partnerships with the likes of Gigi Hadid.

“Many years back, when we decided we should be technically advanced, it was a great decision because we were right on the cusp of change in retail. We were the reverse of that trend [of decline]… It all had to do with the fact that we embraced new technology and were not afraid to take risks,” Hilfiger said and while he noted that – to some extent – embracing the latest technology was part and parcel of being a “young” brand, the decision also had to do with the increasingly competitive retail landscape.

“If you fall behind…catching up is maybe not an option,” he said. Indeed, Peluso is of the opinion that many established retailers – with their wealth of data – are better placed than some might think to thrive in this new retail era. “Now is the time for the rise of the incumbent,” she said.

The Innovation Lab - “Retail is not dead,” declared Matthew Shay, President and CEO of the National Retail Federation, Sunday morning at the NRF 2018 Innovation Lab.

Over at the Innovation Lab the topic was “The Brick and Mortar store strikes back!” keynotes from Ahold Delaize, the Hershey Company and PepsiCo talked about about how they are working with retailers to change the instore experience for customers, opening up sections of the store to incorporate technology. 2017 was the year that was game changing for them in changing the retail experience for their customers. Executive leadership buy in, constant innovation, change of culture and being more agile were all quoted as success factors but most importantly getting the user experience right.

This is where 'Retail Technology' took center stage allowing you to experience the future of retail in a completely hands-on, immersive from artificial-intelligence-powered digital screens personalizing the in-store shopping experience to 3D printing providing the perfect fit for shoes.

If you missed the event, be sure to check out the NRF 2018 Retail's Big Show 2018 recap site.

Natalie Evans

Natalie Evans

Natalie Evans has over 16-years in the tech industry and currently works as the event coordinator and tech reporter for CMS-Connected, keeping up-to-date on what's happening in and around the Content Management industry.