Where retail goes, the world follows — from innovations in tech that meet consumer demand to consciously meeting inclusivity goals and more, there is no better sector than retail to affect change in our communities.
The 113th annual convention of the National Retail Federation, NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show, brought together more than 35,000 attendees and 350 speakers at the Javits Center Jan. 15-17 in New York City to discover new inspiration, new tech and new partnerships leading to breakthrough ideas in retail.
Here are three takeaways from major retailers on how tech, culture and differentiation are helping them breakthrough in retail, plus what’s new from this year’s programming.
Tech-enabled customer experiences
The right tech is cost-effective, offers better choice and gives consumers leverage to customize their experiences.
Understanding the product and the consumer in tandem enables retailers to deliver exceptional experiences that drive customer affinity, said Richard Dickson, Mattel President and Chief Operating Officer.
Saks OFF 5TH has a “bulls-eye” or target customer, which delivers insight into merchandising and customer experience strategy. With so much access to a variety of products, Saks invested significantly to provide tech-enabled offerings like its app and loyalty program to drive engagement and retention. “From a digital-first perspective, the consumer gives us an incredible amount of data through search,” said Saks OFF 5TH President and CEO Paige Thomas during her keynote address.
And the right tech makes customers’ lives easier but also has an impact on associate productivity: Tech is enabling associates both on the front line and in corporate offices to work less transactionally with more purpose, said PepsiCo North America CEO Steven Williams.
Pilot Company CEO Shameek Konar echoed that sentiment, saying that the more tech can be implemented to free up associate time, the better the experience. With 46% of the retailer’s transactions happening via self-checkout, its associates now spend their time more efficiently helping customers, he said.
As more consumers become concerned with the source of raw materials, LVMH is embracing tech with blockchain, which allows valuable items to be authenticated. The retailer is looking for new ways to join the conversation while staying true to the LMVH brand. “How do you embrace the technology, how do you embrace the community that’s super-excited about this technology, but use it to introduce the world to what you’ve always been good at?” asked North America Chairman and CEO Anish Melwani.
Differentiation and competition
It’s not enough to just keep employees safe – we must also be concerned with their overall well-being. “If our associates, our team members, are feeling good about where they work and feeling good about what they do, we automatically get a much better customer experience,” Konar said.
A healthy, motivated, well-trained and diverse workforce is vital. That means investing in better offices, break rooms, distribution centers and frictionless jobs to stay competitive and create a successful work environment, Williams said.
Retailers are investing in and committed to workforces that are not only diverse but inclusive. Retail has a powerful opportunity to provide a sense of community, stability and humanity, said Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya, whose nonprofit business coalition Tent provides employment opportunities for refugees. Petco has created a program to send employees to vet tech school and Whole Foods is developing professional upward paths for certain specialties such as meat handling and cake decoration.
Culture impacts the store experience
Retailers are finding their narrative, moving from “brand dialogue” to “brand monologue” to truly be customer-first. The role of the store is a holistic one and requires knowing that customer conversion happens long before a purchase. To retain true loyalty means understanding the many dynamics of the customer, including their desires and their lifestyle.
The office culture trickles down beyond the corporate team, impacting store experience as well. Top female leaders at Target Corp. joined Board Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell in a conversation about how culture can be sustained even across states and stores. Beyond store layout, Target designs the guest experience based on deep emotional connections; when guests feel seen, heard and cared for, that brings more joy to their lives -- which triggers them to care for their community, said Cara Sylvester, executive vice president and chief guest experience officer at Target.
In the luxury sector, the retail experience is truly a relationship business. “We spend time focusing on a few clients who have the potential to engage with us and build that relationship, so that we ultimately drive customer lifetime value,” said Neiman Marcus CEO Geoffroy van Raemdonck. Merchants cultivate the best brands and curate the best collections to help customers find what’s best for them, so shoppers don’t have to navigate endless aisles. The associates also get to know customers, providing them with tailored advice they might not be able to get online. Along with installing cafés, bars and animated installations, this is one way Neiman Marcus provides “retailtainment.”
New this year
A new stage offered Partner Perspective sessions, with a mix of retailers and solutions providers sharing insights into future retail trends. On Jan. 15, following a panel of senior retail leaders that shared how they are incorporating more inclusive products in their collections, a fashion show showcased the latest designs, developments and innovations in adaptive fashion.
The Consumer Product Showcase, sponsored by Amazon, American Express, Buy With Prime and SAP, provided a forum for small businesses, suppliers, entrepreneurs and brands to feature their consumer-facing products to leading retailers. The majority (84%) of products showcased were from minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, disability-owned or LGBTQ+-owned companies. Retailers were able to vote their favorite product, with Mei-Lon and Toni Lee Jimenez of Chica Beauty awarded the grand prize of $15,000; CordBrick founder Nick Barrett received the second-place prize of $10,000.