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NRF 2019: The News of Retail’s Demise Has Been Greatly Exaggerated!

NRF is big and noisy – with every vendor competing to get its message heard. But at NRF 2019, three powerful messages cut through.

NRF captures the mood of the retail industry. With 700-plus exhibitors and 37,000 attendees, it's the world's largest retail conference and expo. But this year's event in New York City was strikingly different. Retail is changing at a superfast pace.

From conversations with customers and partners at the Sitecore Booth — and listening to insightful presentations — there were three key messages that caught our attention:

#1: The store is back!

For a long time, physical stores have been scorned as capital intensive. They just, suck up valuable resources and are uncompetitive in the digital world. Now, these so-called liabilities are starting to be seen as assets again and a key part of the consumer journey — as well as a way for retailers to differentiate themselves and gain a competitive advantage.

Retail isn't dying; it's just changing. It's no longer all about the product, putting your offline strategy online, and focusing on transactions. Today, retailers must create compelling experiences for customers. And a physical store can give them the edge.

Macy's CEO, Jeff Gennette, led a great session that featured the concept shop STORY, which arranges its store as a magazine. Every eight weeks, it will refresh its theme and share new content around its products. Customers get a great experience — and a genuine sense of theatre that's inventive, draws in people, and brings the retail space to life.

#2: Retailers are in a war for talent

It's a simple fact that most of us miss: Retail is the largest employer in virtually every country. So, not only is the retail workforce critical to the economy, but it's also central to many lives. In fact, it's estimated that one-third of Americans’ first jobs were in retail. You could say that retail has taught people how to go to work.

These important points were made eloquently by Chris Baldwin from BJ wholesale, who really got the audience thinking. The point that really hit me was that the retail industry's competitiveness is linked fundamentally to its ability to attract the right talent. So, to do better, we need to hire smarter. But how is this done?

Home Depot was cited as a great example of how to succeed. The brand realized it wasn't interesting enough to attract talent. So, when they needed extra staff to fill some in-house tech jobs, the company decided to position these roles as being first and foremost about exciting projects. Turning someone into a Home Depot employee was secondary. And the approach worked.

#3: Customer centricity is paramount

An array of C-suite luminaries underlined the critical need for digital transformation and its link to the bottom line. But — while innovations such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality can capture the imagination — it's clear that many organizations are still struggling at base camp with internal silos.

To find their way through the fog, retailers must focus on the customer. You shouldn’t think: What's best for my channel, inventory, and sales targets? Instead, you should ask: What's really best for my customer?

Brian Cornell, chairman and CEO of Target Corp, put the case forcefully: “You must always start with the consumer, in every decision that you make. You have got to be willing to invest in both the present business and for tomorrow. Importantly, you have to be willing to reinvest in stores, in digital, in technology, in fulfillment, and in your teams. And you have to be willing to disrupt yourselves.”

The perfect after-show guide

NRF 2019 touched on the big issues for retail and raised huge questions: How can you change experiences in-store and online, embrace tech that attracts the best talent, and find ways to delight customers continually?

If you're looking for the right answers to these and many other top challenges, then get your copy of the Sitecore Retail Guide. You'll discover how to transform your business, deepen relationships with customers, and accelerate revenues.

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