NRF Recap

Didn’t make it to NRF 2018? Here’s what SD got from it this year!

What would a retailer get out of a trade show like NRF? Who’s the audience?

NRF’s “The Big Show” is a trade show that has broad appeal. To be sure, a retailer can gain a LOT of insight from a show like this – there are sessions on omnichannel, supply chain, and you hear from a variety of industry leaders in both traditional retail and branded manufacturers with direct-to-consumer channels. BUT – and this is a big but – this show is massive. It can be overwhelming. The “audience” is, generally, everyone who touches retail. This can be online, offline; from warehouse and logistics to digital commerce and virtual reality.

Everyone is at NRF. Everyone. Two notable absences this year: Shopify and Amazon. Shopify has presented in years’ past and usually has a large presence at other digital-commerce-focused events like IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference and Expo). Shopify’s larger competitors were front and center: Magento, Salesforce, Oracle, and SAP. It will be interesting to see how they position themselves in 2018 with messaging around B2B and Point of Sale capabilities without a presence at NRF. This could be a strategic decision to focus on lower-mid-market.

Also notable is Amazon’s absence from the show. AWS – their cloud infrastructure product – was exhibiting – but the core marketplace product was not on display. It seems the days of trying to woo retailers into their marketplace may have come and gone. They’ve gained such ubiquity, at least here in North America, that exhibition at an event like NRF may no longer be a requirement.

What kind of content was featured at NRF 2018? What was the theme?

The overall theme of NRF is very broad – traditional retail “pushing the envelope” – with specific tracks that focused on areas of expertise. However – and I can’t take credit for noticing this, that belongs to SD’s own Brian Lange – one uncommunicated theme was the absence of the phrase “omnichannel”. The term “omnichannel” appeared almost nowhere. My take is that we’re now in a world where omnichannel is now table stakes for retail and not a tactic.

“Pushing the envelope” lends itself to nearly everyone talking about the future. Inevitably this leads us down the technology path and in my opinion that’s a shame. I think that retailers need to be tactical *today* to even make it into a future that is more technology focused than even today. That means making tough choices and forging the right partnerships – something that is a truism whether or not we ever wind up shopping in VR.

Did you see anything cool? Any notable sessions?

Content was varied – talks that caught pieces of ranged from supply chain and food delivery to in-store technology innovation. Peter Sheldon of Magento Inc led a session about Digital Transformation which featured an interview with Elsom Eldridge, National Sales Director of Boy Scouts of America. In this session, Peter says that we’re in a time of transition in retail and that a retail apocalypse is not a reality so much as a refocus. Data is giving us greater insight and we’re seeing rapid consolidation and convergence.

The Innovation Lab was a standout. Many interesting exhibitors like SkinGenie – a DNA-testing cosmetics company – point toward the direction of product personalization and how bespoke brands will begin to compete and challenge the monolithic brands of today.

What was your key takeaway?

We’re in transition. The 2017 story of “Retail apocalypse” may not be happening in the way we imagined. We’re seeing consolidation in retail – especially in retail real estate – but there is intense investment and innovation toward the front lines of technology.

We’re also seeing a landscape shift of industry titans who are distinguishing their products. Magento is focusing on a lateral market with B2B being the center of its 2018 strategy. Salesforce is focusing back on B2C and customer experience with their acquisition of Demandware. There are notable absences as some of the middle-market players, like Shopify, aren’t trying to capture big retail business; opting to focus marketing efforts elsewhere.

2018 looks like we’ll continue to see growth in some areas and challenges in others. After NRF 2018 an astute retailer is asking themselves – “How can I WIN today and PREPARE for tomorrow?”

Have a question or a different opinion of NRF? Let us know!

Phillip Jackson

A multi-instrumentalist, Phillip is an avid collector of vintage guitars, keyboards and amplifiers and has a home studio located in West Palm Beach.