6 Takeaways from NRF 2020

January 17, 2020 Lia Parisyan

NRF never fails to surprise. The biggest show in retail takes over Javits in mid-January and gives attendees a glimpse into the future of what we’ll buy, where we’ll buy it, and how. From freshly minted startups to decades-spanning technology giants, there was no shortage of influential ideas and innovations on the show floor.

NRF 2020 at Salesforce Theater Appirio's Phil Nemeth and Badrul Hassan

NRF 2020 Salesforce Theater: Appirio's Phil Nemeth and Badrul Hassan presenting Seamless Commerce

While there was a lot to do and see this year, here are the key trends that resonated with this former retail associate-turned-cloud marketer. 

1. Sustainability 

As second-world countries become more developed, their demand for goods and services will continue to grow. Today, innovators are taking action and experimenting with more eco-friendly packaging materials, such as Perdue’s meat-packing foam and biodegradable starch-based polymers. 

NRF 2020 set a bold vision and sketched a picture of how sustainability will drive retail in the new decade—and some of the signs of the green revolution are already here with the decline of fast fashion and consumers’ growing interest in thrifting, upcycling, and high-quality second-hand clothes

2. AI and machine learning 

The rise of the robot retailers? Not really, but AI and machine-learning innovations were on full display and illustrated the potential of how people and AI can work together to redefine retail experiences. 

AI this year felt more like a promise than a threat, thanks to real-world examples of how brands are using people and artificial intelligence to solve consumer problems together. Stitch Fix, a personalized styling service for men, women, and kids, is a trailblazer in this regard. 

A Stitch Fixer creates a style profile, gets five hand-picked items delivered to her, and keeps what she likes and sends back what she doesn’t. Sounds pretty easy, right? But Stitch Fix kicks it up with machine learning. After a user fills out their profile and indicates her preferences, machine learning is applied to Stitch Fix’s inventory algorithmic recommendations and passed off to a human curator and voila! — a box of personalized fashion finds created just for you! 

It doesn’t end there! Feedback loops are the real genius behind Stitch Fix. Customers tell Stitch Fix about themselves in their initial style profile. After they receive their items and try them on, they’re asked to fill in information about the size, fit/cut, price, quality, and style of what they return. That information is fed back into Stitch Fix and enhances machine learning and algorithmic recommendations over time. Even more, it helps Stitch Fix buyers design a smarter, more in-demand inventory. 

At NRF 2020, we saw how AI, machine and human knowledge, and causal reasoning are being combined to make smarter decisions in real-time and expand trust in a game-changing technology often met with fear and skepticism. 

3. Merging technology to create a unified experience 

Retailers and manufacturers have access to more technologies than ever before. Pioneers in the space are integrating their data to create a unified customer experience. They’re adding personalization and gamification to the in-store and digital retail experience with Augmented Reality (AR) and are pushing the boundaries with Virtual Reality (VR) in store. 

Scalable CGI is also making waves with big brand retailers who are using this technology to create personalized, immersive shopping experiences and accelerate a consumer’s path to purchase. 

3D modeling, AR, and machine learning are increasingly coming together to help customers visualize products in their homes, offices, and factory floors, making it easier for retailers to create inventories that move and present their brand’s design perspective without the high cost of hiring photo stylists, top photographers, and budget-bending studio space. 

As these technologies merge and VR becomes hands- and tether-free, it’s clear that the next generation of digital-savvy consumers won’t shop like their parents did. 

4. Blockchain and IoT

Blockchain is a hot topic that still has some pretty big gaps in understanding. Often, it’s interchanged with Bitcoin, but Blockchain has a far more impactful reach than currency alone. 

Blockchain is revolutionizing logistics, cracking down on counterfeiting, and enabling real-time decision-making. It’s providing businesses with a bigger window into route deviations, temperature fluctuations, and other critical insights that could make the difference between a spoiled cargo container of food or an expired shipment of life-saving medicines. 

IoT is enabling a richer understanding by connecting a wide range of devices like never before and making sure that messages containing valuable recommendations reach the right people, who can take action in the moments that matter.

5. Closing the gap between physical and digital retail

Been to a mall recently? These once great shopping meccas are struggling to lease out vacant storefronts, but there are outliers, like Bath & Body Works, that are defying all analysts’ predictions. Why? The brands that are succeeding know they have to close the gap between in-store and digital retail to draw customers in by creating new, destination-style experiences. 

Seamless Commerce, a MuleSoft (data integration) framework connects Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud, and IoT-enabled devices. This enables retailers to create hyper-relevant, personalized micro-experiences that turn one-time buyers into lifelong brand advocates. 

With seamless data connectivity, marketers can send promotions based on shopper history, targeted recommendations, as well as geo-triggered alerts that draw shoppers into stores with too-good-to-miss in-store-only deals. 

And with Magic Mirror, an in-store interactive mirror powered by Seamless Commerce, marketers gain new insights with integrated digital customer data and inventory and can create a fun, fast, and fun way to shop that evolves with their customers.

Appirio's Badrul Hassan giving a demo of Magic Mirror and Seamless Commerce at NRF 2020

Appirio's Badrul Hassan providing a walkthrough of Magic Mirror and the Seamless Commerce experience at NRF 2020

But that’s not all! Seamless Commerce also empowers retail associates by merging digital and in-store data, giving associates a window into a shopper’s past purchases and preferences, making cross- and up-skilling a bonafide science, requiring a new type of associate that sees retail as a career rather than a temporary gig. 

6. Modernizing your business for retail transformation

With so much great technology being released every day, taking advantage of the latest innovations requires that your organization, your people, and your customers are prepared. From low-code, no-code environments for rapid app development to the democratization of data to the visualization of data sources that enables non-data scientists to create compelling content, retail is on the brink of a revolution that centers on human experience, co-working with AI, and sustainability. 
NRF 2020 signaled the dawn of a new decade and presented attendees and the global community with exciting opportunities and challenges while raising tough questions and promising visions on a way forward.
Ready for your retail transformation? Talk to an Appirio customer experience consultant today! 

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