Creativity and making better use of consumer data are among the early but big ideas to emerge from the ongoing NRF convention taking place in New York City, an annual event commonly called “Retail’s Big Show.”
The NRF convention, coming right after the annual CES expo in Las Vegas, is where retail executives and others help set the stage for the coming year — and perhaps even the coming decade — in commerce and payments (one cannot happen without the other, after all). Already, a bit of news has been made, and it came courtesy of Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass during the NRF keynote interview. As you may already have heard via PYMNTS, amid disappointing holiday sales for the retail chain, she defended Kohl’s ongoing relationship with Amazon — a possible model for other retailers — and its benefits in terms of bringing more omnichannel appeal to Kohl’s brick-and-mortar locations.
Indeed, the recent push toward omnichannel — a concept that has evolved over the years to basically mean meeting consumers on their own ground and via various channels — was getting some serious attention at the NRF show, at least according to accounts on the ground. According to one report, in fact, “The rules have changed,” Gass said in regard to how retailers operate in today’s technology-driven, customer focused environment.”
Part of crafting a better omnichannel experience comes from better training and treatment of retail employees — at least that seemed to be the underlying message in another NRF keynote interview, this one featuring John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. After all, successful omnichannel retail these days is nothing if not the expert use and deployment of digital and mobile technology by retail workers. “Too few companies are deciding to make retail jobs good jobs,” said Zeynep Ton, professor of the practice at MIT Sloan School of Management, who interviewed Furner, according to that report. “Ton stressed that it takes courage and conviction for retail leaders to make changes and create processes that prioritize employees and customers, but that change is possible. ‘It’s not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do,’ she said.”
Shifting Retail Roles
The role of consumer convenience — part of the bigger trend of providing deeper retail and payments experiences to consumers, another big effort for the 2020s — was highlighted in a speech by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, according to the NRF blog. Indeed, according to the story he told, consumers are actually feeling more optimistic about the convenience of retail these days compared with the situation some five years ago, and he said data is playing a huge role in that shift. “Retail is a massive generator of data, he said: 40 terabytes per hour,” according to the NRF account of the speech. As to what will be done with all that data, he said retail as an industry “will use it to know its customers, empower its employees, create an intelligent supply chain and reinvent its business models.”
Indeed, Nadella went much deeper than that, and talked about the different roles retailers might be called upon to play in the 2020s. As the NRF account put it, “The major part of this reinvention will rely on steps taken by individual retailers. ‘The meme of the twenties,’ Nadella said, “will be retailers moving to their own tech intensity. It’s not about taking away the art of retail. It’s about building your tech intensity. You can’t be cool by association with a tech friend — you have to be cool on your own. You have to take pride in the digital capability that you have built.’”
And as was the case earlier, Nadella highlighted the role retail workers will and should play in those shifts. As he put it, “A crucial key to retail success in the new decade is using technology to support employees. ‘Giving data to employees,’ he said, ‘is the single most ROI intensive thing you can do. It increases your conversion rate by 15 percent and your satisfaction rate by 10 percent.’” He also offered an example, citing IKEA, “which has developed an app that greatly simplifies the way employees rearrange their schedules so as to fit both their own needs and traffic patterns in the stores. In the process, [IKEA] has cut six levels of administration between the staff using technology and the staff developing it.”
The NRF show runs through Tuesday (Jan. 14), and there is little doubt that more news about where retail is headed will come from there.