NRF: Retailers must bridge the digital divide

Photo credit: @zivvonD
IBM at NRF15 (Photo credit: @zivvonD)

Ever wonder how Retail’s Big Show earned its name? It’s home to a record-breaking 34,000 retail professionals who have all gathered in New York City for a unique, one-stop shopping experience. Fashion, technology and new ideas are all showcased at the NRF: it is a global runway for innovations sure to win over consumers.

Dr. Ben Bernanke, former Federal Reserve Chairman on right (photo credit:
Dr. Ben Bernanke, former Federal Reserve Chairman on right (Photo credit: @zivvonD)

One of the keynote panelists was Dr. Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, who spoke about the economic downturn in 2008.  He mentioned that retail is the largest private sector in the United States with 42 million jobs created in 2015, which means that retail has a significant impact on the US GDP and macro-economic trends for the US.

Applying lessons learned from the FED to the retail industry, Bernanke mentioned that collaboration and transparency within the FED were key, and the same can be said for leading a top retail enterprise. He referred to this transparent approach as the “blue sky strategy”; if the retailer has the right people on board, and they feel included in decision-making conversations, retailers can lead the organization to success.

Breakout sessions hosted by industry leaders discussed topics ranging from global retail tech trends to local implementation strategies. More than 40 sessions touched on how to build a successful brand – from brand building in an emerging market like Brazil to best practices in omni-channel retailing. A diverse list of speakers, ranging from Staples to Uber to the San Francisco 49ers, convened to share innovative case studies and battle stories.

NRF15 panel including Jason Droege, head of Uber Everything (photo credit: @mullermilk)
NRF15 panel including Jason Droege, head of Uber Everything (Photo credit: @mullermilk)

Innovation and fostering a culture of experimentation were consistent themes echoed throughout many breakout sessions. In a session on omni-channel retailing, Jason Droege, head of Uber Everything, said: “In a bigger company, it gets harder to innovate. You have to take chances, so we have to have a culture that says failure is fine as long as we’re learning something.”

IBM’s keynote with Terry Jones, CEO of Travelocity, similarly gave tips to retailers on how to build an innovative culture and garner support from the right teams. “If innovation isn’t happening in your company, it might be trapped in the impenetrable layer of middle management that often stops ideas from moving up the chain of command,” Jones mentions. He urges retailers to hire people who don’t fit in, experiment more, and when things fail, kill projects, not people.

Another pertinent theme at the NRF was how digital is changing the way businesses interact with their clients. This not only happens online; but also in store. Since digital affects 1.1 trillion dollars of in-store sales, speakers urged retailers to bridge the gap between the physical and digital, and integrate client experience through their digital strategy. In the session on emerging markets, Brazilian brands gathered to discuss key principles for success in an emerging market. Key points included encouraging local brand positioning, identifying a long-term business vision, providing a local supplier base and developing a strong customer focus.  They stressed that it’s important to achieve all of the above while tying in a holistic, 360-degree digital strategy.

NRF15 (Photo credit: @mullermilk)
NRF15 (Photo credit: @mullermilk)

Overall, trends evident at the show included customer analytics and mobility; both are rapid technological advances driven by retail’s demand for one-to-one, hyper-personalized interaction with the customer. As Mike Rodgers from JCPenney remarked, the “smart phone influenced 19% of all US sales in the last 24 months.”

Retailers left the event with a clear understanding of how digital influences traffic, conversion rates, order size, and customer loyalty. According to one keynote, some retailers see 40% higher conversion rates when customers have a great digital brand experience, and 75% of customers say that social channels significantly influence their loyalty to the brand. Retailers were once again urged to bridge the physical-digital gap through mobility and analytics. Take a look at how the leading companies, or pacesetters, are gaining competitive advantage from these technologies.


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