Big Names, Big Ideas at Retail’s Big Show

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Big Names, Big Ideas at Retail’s Big Show

By Michael Forhez - 01/13/2018

35,000 attendees, 18,000 retailers, 3,500 companies and 95 countries will convene in New York City from Jan. 14-16 in NYC at NRF 2018.

What’s Now? ... What’s Wow?
At this year’s NRF, I’ll be looking for the latest/greatest, attending sessions, meeting old friends and making new ones. Following are some thoughts on what I’ll be thinking about as I walk about:

What’s the Mood on the Show Floor?

  • 2017 - 2018 Retail Store Closings: In 2017, 20 retail chains and some 300 retailers filed for bankruptcy, with around 6,700 brick-and-mortar stores closing, representing approximately 147 million square feet of space. In 2018, 17 companies remain on a "watch list." Charlie O’Shea, Moody’s lead retail analyst, stated in a recent interview, “I think the early part of next year will be pretty bad … I think it will be tough. Will holiday sales and the projected continuing economic upturn allow a retail reprieve?”
  • 2017 Tax Bill: Will retailers invest in brick and mortar, e-commerce assets, or hardware and software systems? How does the math change under the new tax law? Are new strategies, tactics and investments now part of the conversation, just conversation, or a true recognition of the required journey to reinvention?
  • Retail Apocalypse or Renaissance? A Quinnipiac poll released on Jan. 10 finds that consumer perception of the U.S. economy is the highest it's been since the question was first asked 17 years ago. In 2017, holiday sales jumped 4.9%, according to a report issued by MasterCard Spending Pulse. That represents the biggest increase since 2011 and confirms earlier signs of consumer confidence. Online retail shopping was up 18.1%. Sarah Quinlan, SVP of Market Insights for MasterCard, states, “The strong U.S. economy was a contributing factor, but we also have to recognize that retailers who tried new strategies to engage holiday shoppers were the beneficiaries of this sales increase.”
  • What’s the broad take on the floor? Are investments in tomorrow dependent on sentiments today? Again, the question: Will holiday sales and the projected continuing economic upturn, as well as new tax incentives, allow a retail reprieve? If so, will the reprieve spur investment or lull us into a false sense of security?

What Are the Impact Trends?

Billions of dollars are on the table. The ability to attract, hold and grow profitable customers is now the brand and retail requisite. Technology continues to develop new tools, and new tools mean new rules. Data-driven marketing has proven that there is no "mass market."

For example, Mobile Shopping Commerce has grown from 2% of digital spending to 20% in 2016, according to Cowan & Company. Therefore, I expect that many brands and retailers will be looking to optimize mobile experiences for their customers. Why? Research company Smart Insights notes that more than half of today’s searches are conducted on mobile devices. Of Facebook usage, 91% is on mobile. Of mobile media, 90% of time is spent within apps. Here are some of the "tools and rules" that I will be looking for on the show floor:

  • What does mobile marketing and cross-device optimization look like? Who will create and adopt better tailored and targeted multi-channel and multi-platform experiences using adaptive design
  • Will Conversational UIs (user interfaces) be the show’s "emerging technology"? Will they replace e-mail? Will hardware be developed to support this new form of chat and collaboration? (Conversational UIs include chatbots, software and human-assisted support, voice-controlled search assistants and voice-controlled connected devices.)
  • Do Conversational UIs, the ability to reach and influence customers, necessitate marketing clouds and predictive analytics? If the "end game" is the ability to create loyalty and repeat-purchase behavior, are marketing clouds, digital marketing hubs, POS data, consumer insights and predictive analytics necessary to efficiently manage all points of contact and customer communication between the brand or retailer and their customers? How do you put it all together?
  • 5G — it's near and will enable many new applications in telecommunications, industrial, automotive, healthcare and … consumer markets. According to the Consumer Technology Association, a 2-hour video would take 26 hours on a 3G network, six minutes on today’s 4G network and 3.6 seconds on a 5G network. AT&T has announced it will start deploying 5G in 12 cities this year. That means very complex and sophisticated communications are possible in near real-time. I’ll be looking to see how and when the industry will take advantage of this high-speed capability.
  • How will search be transformed in 2018? Is search about to change from “question and answer” to “question and action”? Are we moving from searches using unstructured data — Google — to structured data — Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana?
  • Walmart, Kroger, Alibaba and Amazon will experiment with self-checkout or “scan & go” installations this year. Is this the "silver bullet" combined with click & collect that saves brick-and-mortar retailing? What will we see on the floor in both technology and interest?
  • Alibaba A.I. Labs, which is responsible for consumer AI products, and MediaTek, a semiconductor company, recently announced the first Smartmesh connectivity solution designed to enable smart home devices to automatically pair with voice-controlled smart assistants. Will this lead to smart home, factory and retail interaction eco-systems?
  • AR, VR and AI: What will we see on the floor and what will the interest be?

So, It’s Showtime … As you can see, there will be a lot to observe at NRF this year. Hope to see you at the show. I would like to hear about your observations and insights about What’s Now and What’s Wow.

Hail the Consumer!

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