NRF16 Retail’s Big Show – what I expect to hear this year.

NRF_retailEvery January for the past few years I have made the trek to the Big Apple and spent the better part of the week at the cavernous Javits Center for the National Retail Federations Big Show. The event feels like the official kick off for the year. While I know many who grudgingly make their way to NRF, I have always enjoyed my time at the event. So what about this year? What will I be looking for from the show?

  • The continued evolution towards the endless aisle – Matrix Commerce, is all about the merging of physical retail with eCommerce in all its forms. Where commerce is thought of without the distinction between what happens in a store or in cyberspace – it is just commerce. Obviously this is not a new concept, more an evolution of omni channel retail. One key need for Matrix Commerce is to be able to meet customer demands anywhere those demands emerge from – understanding inventory availability is the key. However, this remains a major challenge for retailers and holds back Matrix Commerce to take full flight. Too often retailers are still struggling to merge multiple systems, those that serve physical stores and those that may serve eCommerce, catalog driven sales and other channels. Often times these issues stem from past decisions made to treat eCommerce as separate from their traditional business – brick and mortar. Today more retailers are struggling to find ways to consolidate these systems and begin to gain greater visibility into their overall inventory positions. I will be interested to see what are the solutions and processes being offered for retailers. Without the ability to gain this visibility, the ability to achieve the endless aisle retailers are looking for will remain a major hurdle. Retailers cannot expect to be flexible and capable of meeting customer demands, regardless of which channel generates that demand, if they do not have true view into their inventory positions. This is not simply where inventory is, but what inventory has been promised and how to match order priority with accessible inventories. I am curious to see how the likes of Infor, Software AG, IBM, Aptos, Oracle and others are tackling this challenge.
  • Workforce empowerment picks up momentum – An area that has picked up in intensity over the past year is the ability to bring smarter solutions, information and insights down to the store associate and even distribution center employee. How to bring more insights and tools to the store associates runs in parallel with the redefinition of the store itself. Stores are being asked to do more – become destinations through hosted contextual experiences within the stores, leveraging store inventory to fulfill orders, act as return depots and embrace show rooming. A key aspect of these new store uses will also change the store associate role within this infrastructure. In order to maximize both the store as well as the associate, retailers are looking for solution providers to offer ways in which technology and other solutions can be integrated with the store associate daily activities. Think mobile tools, wearables, greater system integration and better business processes all being put on the floor of retail brick and mortar locations – right in the hands of store associates and managers. This is also true for distribution center labor. With continued rise of eCommerce, fulfillment takes on a new dimension where distribution center labor is asked to not only package inventory to be delivered to stores but to provide direct to consumer fulfillment as retail supply chains are more flexible with regards to where they service demand. Look for more discussion, from such players as Salesforce, Netsuite, Kronos, and others, around new solutions and efforts made by those attending NRF on how they can empower retailers’ workforces with enhanced tools and insights.
  • Tackling last mile logistics – All one has to do is look back a few weeks and realize that the crush on logistics,icon_warehouse especially the last mile portion, continues to be a strain on the retail supply chain. Stories such as the one from the University of Connecticut’s mail room that is overwhelmed by package delivery, that Jet.com had to apologize to some of their customers for not being able to meet holiday order deadlines and real estate management firms such as Camden Property putting in policies that restrict and even prohibit package delivery to their properties, are all examples of the last mile retail crush. As we see more retailers offering free shipping and returns or the likes of Amazon and Jet.com incentivizing customers to look to receiving a wider array of products delivered to home – this issue will not go away. I am looking to NRF to learning of new and innovate manners vendors are looking to address this issue with their customers. How are traditional logistic solution providers such as JDA, Manhattan Associates, Oracle to name few are tackling this issue and what innovate strategies are they helping their customers implement?
  • The revolution in customer relationships, beyond CRM – I hesitate to call this CRM…reason is that I believe that the connotation associated with CRM is limiting to what is really being offered to retailers. What is key in today’s retail world is getting a rich view of the customer, and not only at those customers’ interactions with the brand. Retailers, just like they do with their inventory, must approach customers across all channels that they touch the brand through. Similar to understanding your inventory position, knowing all the touch points and the context of those interactions are not easy to achieve. As retailers must pull from multiple and often time isolated systems, it is a daunting task to create a clear picture of consumers. Understanding goes beyond creating the 360 view of the customer but also how to apply this within the context of the store and even beyond. What are the technologies that can be leveraged within the store to build on this customer knowledge and help convert and build deeper relationships between the customer and the brand. Looking at NRF16, I am interested in seeing how the likes of Salesforce, Oracle, Engage.cx, SAP Hybris, Zebra Technologies to name a few are taking on this challenge.

I am bracing myself for busy and hectic 4 days in New York, but I am also looking forward to absorbing a lot of great information, seeing old friends and meeting new ones. Will I see you there? I hope so! What are you hoping to see at NRF this year?

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