Things I Learned at This Year’s National Retail Federation Convention
I spent a couple of exciting days this week in New York at the National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show. It was great to meet new people and learn about the exciting array of products available to my retail clients. I gained several meaningful takeaways from the show that will guide my future thinking and approaches.
The Industry is Truly International
Smaller companies often have localized concerns. This is natural and understandable given that bottom lines generally come from performance within specific markets. Much of the NRF show was informally organized with such a consideration in mind, as larger organizations serving multinational customer needs were featured in designated sections of the event space.
The reality remains, however, that we live in a globalized marketplace. As I have explored in previous posts of this blog, what happens in the confines of one industry, country, or region can easily have reverberations across the world. In this way it is perhaps not surprising that so many foreign companies were represented in the expo. Although some were large international conglomerates, a significant number of attendees came from smaller organizations providing niche products originating from their home countries. Anecdotally, their presence is magnified by the fact that I engaged in five languages (English, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, French) over the course of the NRF event.
The Emergence of Artificial Intelligence Continues
Robotics was an exciting and innovative area featured in the conference. While some of the demonstrations included traditional automated machinery from this field, the majority of the items presented dealt with a powerful combination of analytics and facial recognition. Because such technology is revolutionary (and controversial), I am still waiting to see more case studies about how this affects the brick and mortar spaces across the retail sector - particularly in its implementation at smaller scale operations - before outlining definitive long term trends.
Cashless Payments as a Standard: China’s Great Export
Among all nations present at the convention, China stands out. In addition to promoting its manufacturing prowess, Chinese firms also leveraged the country’s unique online tools to create and advertise intriguing product offerings. The most popular item featured by these Chinese firms was cashless payments, most often in the form of the popular platforms Alipay and WeChat Pay.
While I believe that these particular brands face serious challenges in the West, the concepts they represent (especially the universality of purchases that can be made with them in their native China) are the future of commercial transactions. Culturally speaking, I am interested to see how Chinese companies in this space adapt to the more decentralized/fragmented structure of American society.
As a result, I will be following the development of these brands and services closely as systems improve and become more globally integrated for all retailers. The key question is: will retailers accept this new way of doing business with minimal friction?
Logistics and Supply Chain Platforms
At NRF, I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of logistics and supply chain service providers exhibiting at the conference. Thanks to a knowledgable guide, I learned about the sourcing and inventory information needs of retailers across the industry and was able to witness a few product demos.
For me, the biggest impression was that technological capability, experience with big data, and the growing specificity organizations have to profit in greater niche markets have resulted in highly customizable solutions that focus on granular level disruptions. One vendor even encapsulated their product with a pithy phrase describing this phenomenon: “interactive drillability.” Another similarly offered “what-if scenarios optimization.”
This event was a great snapshot of the direction commerce is headed in the near future, a direction that raises complex questions while promoting optimism of significant growth opportunities for many organizations. I am excited to view some of these trends with fresh eyes and hopefully look forward to attending the next convention.
I welcome your thoughts. Please feel free to respond in the comments or to email me at email@example.com to discuss further.