Last week, big things were happening in New York City. We’re not talking about the latest Broadway debut, or star sightings at the city’s hottest restaurant. We’re talking about the annual NRF Big Show, this year held January 12-14 in New York.

This year’s show was, as always, global in its reach, attracting attendees and exhibitors from around the world, all coming together to showcase and debut the technologies that are driving the future of retail. With 40,000+ attendees walking the exhibit floor and sitting in on more than 200 sessions, there was a lot of knowledge to be shared at this year’s Big Show, and one thing was made clear: There is a lot to look forward to, and a lot to think about, in the present day and future of retail. Here are a few Big takeaways from this year’s Big Show.  

1. Retailers can’t stay static.

“Retail is a transforming, vibrant industry,” said Chris Baldwin, CEO of BJs Wholesale, at the Retail ROI SuperSaturday event. “According to consumer data, a majority of shoppers believe retail has improved and also has improved their lives. How many industries can say that?”

And Steve Dennis, President & Founder of SageBerry Consulting, is quoted as saying, “Boring retail is dead. My advice is to choose remarkable retail and inspire customers to spread your story.”

What these experts are saying tracks with what we’ve been seeing recently in retail, and will continue seeing for the foreseeable future: the retail experience sells. When today’s consumers enter a store, it’s not just to pick up a carton of milk and a dozen eggs—it’s to fully experience the sights and sounds a store has to offer. They want a reason to visit a store, because omnichannel is ubiquitous and they could just as easily make a purchase online. What’s more, physical retail stores are regaining some ground in omnichannel (it’s really not online-all-the-time!) and retailers need to be ready for that.

Takeaway: It’s imperative that retailers are constantly considering and evaluating their strategies to ensure engagement.  

2. Consumers are still king

The oldest adage of retail is “Customer is king,” and though everything else in retail may have changed, those words still ring true. And in today’s retail world, with consumers coming from all parts of the globe, thanks to ubiquitous e-commerce, retailers need to ensure they’re meeting consumers shopping experience needs whether online or in store.

Rod Sides, Vice Chairman and U.S. leader for retail, wholesale, and distribution practice for Deloitte, interviewed Under Armour’s Kevin Plank, at the NRF Big Show, to talk about what customers need these days. Sides shared insight from Deloitte research, noting that of the people they surveyed, more than 70 percent said they spend a lot of time online. And of those, 19 percent said they spent even more time online if they are part of a community.

“The question for retailers is, how do we create that stickiness?,” Sides is quoted as saying. “How do we create community? How do we remain relevant in the lives of consumers? It’s about promise. It’s the promise of, ‘Here’s what my brand is all about.’ It’s about being able to connect with the consumer in a different way, and it’s about being able to deliver on that brand promise.”

Plank noted that, ““When a consumer walks into a retail store, there’s two things they need to know and understand,” he said. “What’s your personality, and what’s your point of view?” 

Takeaway: It adds on to our first point of engaging consumers. But taking it a step further, know your brand as a retailer, so you can clearly communicate it to consumers, and build a sense of loyalty.

3. Robots are heeeeeere

Technology is the word of the decade in retail, and the latest tech making an impact on retailers is robots. Are these the droids you’re looking for? Maybe.

“Companies are continuing to invest in robotics technologies, deploying bots at both the warehouse and the store,” writes Steve Banker in a recent Forbes article recapping the NRF Big Show. But, he adds, retailers are running into the issue of deciphering which robotics technologies actually meet their needs. There were several companies showcasing their offers, including a robot that handled inventory management.

Takeaway: Robots are evolving, and are poised to be the Big Thing to help retailers be more efficient. But! Retailers need to understand where their issues fall if robots are going to be truly effective.

Did you attend NRF’s Big Show? We want to hear about your experience!  

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