5 Takeaways from NRFtech 2019

The Hitachi Solutions retail team recently traveled to NRFtech 2019 in San Francisco. This three-day event is touted as the industry’s premier technology summit and attracts the world’s top retail executives and tech giants.

According to their website, NRFtech gives retail CIOs, CDOs, senior technology executives, and startups a unique opportunity to discover and explore innovations in retail technology while networking with peers in the industry. Our goal is to extend the conversation to all organizational areas responsible for technologies that impact consumers.

While networking with many of the attendees, it became clear that a few distinct trends are emerging in retail. Here are our five biggest takeaways from NRFtech 2019.

NRF Trends for 2019

1. Use Technology to Create a Frictionless Customer Experience

The first step is to ask yourself a simple question – what does the customer want? Mary Beth Laughton of Sephora outlined how they have successfully utilized technology to make the shopping experience as easy as possible for their customers. Sephora has personalized the shopping journey for each customer by understanding that all technology has a purpose.

Their latest Skincare IQ technology helps customers find the products that are best suited to them based on a wide variety of biological and environmental factors. To create a frictionless experience, the in-store technology was supported by the Sephora application and their application supported online activity, all while remaining connected to the customer. They have flawlessly blended the physical store activity and the online channel activity, and therefore fostered a community for their customers to share ideas, provide feedback, and strengthen their loyalty to Sephora.

2. CIOs are the Change Agents of Retail

Chris Putur, CIO of REI Co-op, Sally Gilligan, CIO of Gap, and Deb Hall Lefevre, CTO of Couche-Tard/Circle K, shared their insights into how the role of the CIO is changing. Their universal challenge today is getting a business to buy in to the changes that are required of retail businesses today.

The role of the CIO is focused now on the impact of technology on strategic initiatives. As a CIO/CTO you need to understand:

  • The economics of the business
  • The customer and the experience
  • How to drive outcomes for the business

As a CIO, you need to present the latest technology but also explain the infrastructure needed to support the latest innovations in a manner that inspires executives not to lose interest or shut a project down before it gets started. In this role, CIOs are essentially leading the charge of digital transformation in retail.

3. Autonomous Checkout is Growing

Checkout is recognized by most retailers as the primary area that causes shoppers friction and frustration. To alleviate that pain point, many retailers are pushing to transform checkout into an autonomous process.

Retail industry leaders see this as a potentially transformative change that impacts more than just checkout. With autonomous checkout options, stores have the potential to become like a shopper’s personal pantry, where shoppers just go grab what they need, check themselves out, and go on their way.

At NRFtech, Trigo Vision, Walmart, Cognition, Grabango, and Zippin shared their progress in this area and hosted a tour of some of their concept stores. It is no longer a matter of if autonomous pay will become part of the everyday shopping experience but more a matter of when. This is something all retailers should start planning for to keep up with their competitors.

4. Retail Needs to Get Into Resale

Environmental concern is a major factor for many shoppers, especially Millennials and Gen Z’s. To accommodate this demographic, retailers are looking to sell more recycled products. Anthony Marino of thredUP believes that resale will become a $51 billion-dollar market by 2023, and their company is leading the way in recycled retail. They have developed technology and distribution centers to efficiently receive, photograph, tag, and store products so they can fulfill an order in 60 seconds. They move donated product so quickly that they are able to process nearly 100,000 “new” products every day.

The resale/recycled market presents amazing potential for collaboration between retailers that are selling new merchandise, but have customers who are conscious of the environment. Retailers can give their customers a way to remove or repurpose items they no longer wear or use, making their new purchase a more guilt-free experience.

This new resale x retail model is building steam, and nine out of 10 retail executives surveyed stated they wanted to get into the resale market by 2020.

This model is just another way for retailers to increase revenue by:

  • Providing sustainability
  • Increasing customer loyalty
  • Attracting new customers – especially younger customers
  • Increasing store or site traffic

5. Build a Winning Team – Focus on Culture & Innovation

An organization is only as good as its people, and that value system is growing in popularity in the retail industry. Molly Ford of Salesforce highlighted how they maintain a culture of diversity and inspiration, and it all begins at the top. CEO Mark Benioff regularly reviews company-wide surveys on their values, and actively responds to and commits to making changes to improve their culture. Born out of this process was the Salesforce Equality Ally Program, which allows employees to work together to foster inclusion, philanthropy, professional development, and create a real community out of a company.

Morten Hansen, management professor and author of “Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less,” outlined five ways companies can improve their processes and change their culture:

  • Less Fluff: Eliminate the activities that provide little value
  • More Right Stuff: Spend more time on existing activities of high value
  • More Gee Whiz: Create new activities of high value
  • Five Star Rating: Find new ways to improve the quality of chosen activities
  • Faster and Cheaper: Find new ways to do chosen activities more efficiently

The retail industry is changing at a rapid pace, and leading that revolution is digital transformation. No one understands that better than Hitachi Solutions. Our products are built specifically for the retail industry and then fine-tuned to meet your unique business needs. Our solutions are targeted to the specific needs of retailers, so you gain the insight to operate with agility and provide the amazing customer experiences that drive loyalty. If you would like to begin your retail transformation, contact our team, and we’ll help you get started.