The retail industry, that’s who.
Read any business publication discussing the holiday shopping season and you know that retail executives have a lot to talk about. So last Sunday at 10 AM thousands of retailers, vendors, and analysts descended on the Javits Center for the 2017 National Retail Federation Big Show (NRF). The big topic on everyone’s mind? How can retailers ride the wave of digitalization, and avoid getting drowned by it. Here are One Door CMO Tom Erskine’s 3 big takeaways from this year’s NRF.
Less buzz, more substance – This year there was even more urgency than in 2016. Facing a ‘do or die’ mandate to transform quickly into digital businesses, retailers are finally prioritizing the wildly important transformation programs. There was less buzz around “bright shiny objects” like robotics, IoT, store sensing, and AR/VR, and more focus on the digitalization of core business processes. This core work sounds dull, but it is critical – Pepper the customer associate robot is amazingly cool, but for robots to be effective in retail stores a lot of underlying digitalization must still be done.
A recognition that stores still matter – There was a more realistic conversation about distribution channels. Instead of attempting to magically transform themselves into ‘online only’ retailers in a vain attempt to copy Amazon, retailers are now recognizing stores for what they can be – a valuable differentiated asset providing last-mile distribution, easy to access customer support, and an immersive showroom for their brands. The emphasis was on breaking down barriers between channels, versus shedding them entirely.
Data must create insight that drives action – Lastly, retailers are getting smarter about “Big Data”. Maybe they’ve been jaded by the ineffectiveness of spending money to pour data into Hadoop clusters, but retailers are now demanding that technology software vendors deliver actionable insight integrated into their space planning, assortment planning, inventory management, customer relationship management and clienteling applications.
So, can retailers ride the wave? Can they modify their processes to adapt to the accelerating pace of change within the industry brought on by digitalization? I’m not sure, but the focus I saw at NRF was a step in the right direction.