3 ways retailers made it matter at NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show

Impactful retail is driven by efficient tech and meaningful experiences
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Browse photos, blog posts, videos and more from NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show.

Nearly 40,000 attendees gathered in New York City in January to share lessons learned from the past year in retail and see what’s in store and online for 2024 and beyond. NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show convened 5,000 brands from more than 100 countries, and over 450 speakers spoke during more than 190 sessions about resiliency, purpose, customer care, the retail experiences of the future and more.

Creating the best experiences requires foresight in sustainable supply chains and the innovation that drives customer and associate loyalty. “We know in retail, success comes from thinking ahead,” said John Furner, Walmart U.S. President and CEO and National Retail Federation Board Chairman, as he opened the conference.

Sustainable supply chains

Sustainability influences decision-making; 75% of Gen Zers say they value the sustainable initiatives of a company more than the brand name, said Raj Subramaniam, president and CEO of FedEx, whose keynote address provided a model for improving supply chain visibility. Retailers are designing for circularity and sustainability and connecting dots to consumers’ value systems, said Gretchen McCarthy, Target executive vice president, chief supply chain and logistics officer, and nothing can offer ease, convenience and affordability quite like a store.

Sean Barbour of Macy’s at the NRF Supply Chain 360 Summit.
Helen Davis of Kraft Heinz and Sean Barbour of Macy’s speak at the NRF Supply Chain 360 Summit.

McCarthy spoke during a conversation about Target’s stores-as-hubs strategy as part of the NRF Supply Chain 360 Summit, a new day-long program that looked at how retail supply chain professionals build more resilient supply chains. Retail experts from Northern Tool + Equipment, The Vitamin Shoppe and more discussed product trend forecasting, ensuring availability and quantity of products, mitigating risks and creating opportunities for workers.

The complexity of how to determine what to buy, considering how products performed for a time period and how they will perform in the future was a topic of conversation in a panel about AI’s role in inventory visibility. Sean Barbour, Macy’s senior vice president of supply chain, discussed considerations around where to position inventory: whether digitally or in-store, where in the region to consider and optimal allocation of inventory. Forecasting tech helps improve this process and retailers can minimize waste through artificial intelligence that anticipates customer demand.

Keeping a customer for life

At the heart of every conversation at NRF 2024 was the consumer, who has experienced a “permacrisis” led by inflation, the pandemic and more, said Sam‘s Club Executive Vice President and Chief Growth Officer Diana Marshall. But even during transformational shifts, consumer resiliency and loyalty is strong, said Michelle Gass, president and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. Consumers continue to gravitate toward brands they know and trust in good times and bad.

Anton Vincent, president of Mars Wrigley, North America and Global Ice Cream at Mars Inc., believes consumers are connecting values with transactions and have become more introspective. If retailers can be authentic and hit the right message, engagement and transactions work in tandem, said Kyle Leahy, CEO of Glossier, allowing retailers to not only influence the business but change the way consumers see themselves.

Drew Barrymore, co-founder of the home goods brand Beautiful, spoke about how to be effectively aware requires considering the lifestyle of the consumer right now and the current state of the world. Brands have the power to tell a good story but that story must offer value through its authenticity and awareness in order to build true customer allies.

Anusha Couttigane of Vogue Business at NRF 2024:Retail's Big Show.
Anusha Couttigane, head of advisory at Vogue Business, speaks at NRF 2024: Retail's Big Show.

During her featured session, Anusha Couttigane, head of advisory at Vogue Business, shared tips on how retailers can keep a customer throughout their life journey:

  • Research domestic digital platforms and physical moments with high local penetration and engagement.
  • Evaluate gateway categories that seduce and loyalty categories that secure repeat customers. These vary by market.
  • Don’t just work on boosting awareness. Work on sharing your brand story and your expertise to boost conversion.
  • Influence and advocacy doesn’t look the same in every market. Consider the reach of cultural moments as well as influencers.

Innovating for stores and associates

Why do people like shopping in stores? Lee Peterson, executive vice president of thought leadership and marketing at WD Partners, lists reasons like fast checkout, fun vibes, music, people and the ability to discover and explore through touch. Ultimately, stores are experience centers.

Artificial intelligence technology is enhancing in-store experiences and enabling simplicity for both customers and associates. Tractor Supply Company’s employee app helps associates find items in the store, allowing them to better serve the customer; it also acts as a pocket human resource guide, allowing associates to better serve themselves, said CEO Hal Lawton.

Putting effective data and tech in the hands of associates helps them not just survive but thrive and feel excited about what they can do at work every day, said Signet Jewelers CEO Gina Drosos. She credits some of the retailer’s success to the tech-enabled agility of her associates.

NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show

Read more insights from the fantastic sessions at NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show.

Artificial intelligence promotes efficiency and cost savings; retailers like Saks are using it to write copy for products, enhance editorials and enable personalized experiences that customers appreciate, said Saks CEO Marc Metrick.

The beauty category is inherently inclusive and Ulta Beauty has a robust understanding of beauty behaviors at individual levels through AI that innovates on beauty tech experiences. Virtual cosmetics and virtual try-on allow customers to discover different ways of customization; if they need more of a human connection the associate is always there, said CEO Dave Kimbell.

In a saturated market where the challenge is often not awareness but consideration, successful retailers marry authenticity and excitement with a great product or service that meets the customer at a special moment in time.

With the support of pioneering tech that makes life easier for the customer and associate, retailers are creating experiences that matter.

Want more of Retail’s Big Show? Visit the NRF 2024 Event Recap page for blog posts, event photos, video highlights, press coverage and more.

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