The NRF 2016 Big Show convened in the middle of January and as always, there were a lot of interesting takeaways. We didn’t attend this year but we kept up with the discussions. This event generally foreshadows trends that surface in retail throughout the year. The most compelling trends relate to increased application of machine learning, beacons, innovation in mobile apps, last mile fulfillment, and in-store technology.
A lot of discussions this year were centered on innovation and technology. As we mentioned in this blog post, the past few years have seen plenty of talk about new technology and not all of it has always panned out. But this year, it was pointed out that technology of and by itself doesn’t count for much. As Debbie Hauss of Retail TouchPoints said, businesses need to think about the context in which they are employing technology.
Is it the right technology?
What is the context?
What is the end goal?
So it’s not useful for everyone to just slap on the latest new technology if it’s not solving the inherent problem. This is partly what has held businesses back from being truly omni-channel and customer-centric – trying to achieve the balance between keeping up with new technology and the appropriate application for it.
Having said that, technology and innovation is definitely going to drive shopping this year. 2015 was the year of mobile commerce and this trend will definitely continue to proliferate. An increase in the size of phone screens has triggered higher browsing and engagement activity on mobile. Also, Google’s tweaking of their search algorithm to surface more mobile-friendly sites is further proof of this transition.
In-store technology will come of age this year. Technology needs to serve not just customers but also store associates for physical stores to be able to retain and further assert their relevance. For instance, True Religion jeans demoed an Apple Watch app that keeps store associates updated with inventory information, enabling the endless aisle. This is an exciting trend that promises to turn “showrooming” into a positive. If offers are coordinated seamlessly across all channels, and shoppers and store associates all have the same amount of visibility and transparency into a store’s catalog, it would help to resolve the omni-channel issue.
Speaking of innovation in physical stores, what I would really like to see more of in 2016 is display stores, using technology like say Hointer enables, or what Bonobos does. Here’s the thing: I am six feet tall. Even if I wanted to walk into a store and buy something, I can’t. Most brands sell petite and tall sizes online only. What if all stores carried only samples? – for instance, carry one pair of jeans in every color and size in a store. So instead of me having to go through the process of ordering a tall size online, trying on at home and then returning what didn’t work, I could know for sure if something works or not and then have it delivered to my house with the confidence of knowing I will love it. It would make it easier for stores to manage inventory and returns. Additionally, all us regular, tall and petite folks get treated equally!
Alicia Fiorletta (from Retail TouchPoints) talked about an exciting new technology from Perch – where when you pick up a product, you get a visual experience of its description, reviews, etc. Brick-and-mortar stores are not going anywhere. In fact, the NRF 2016 Big Show gave a glimpse into the intuitive and engaging technology that stores can be empowered with. One thing is certain. For any new technology to work at its full capacity, it has to be backed by comprehensive and consistent product information, whether in-store or online.