NRF’s BIG SHOW 2014 – Omnichannel Progress Seen at this Year’s Major Retail Event

This week I attended the National Retail Federation’s annual show and conference in New York.  It is – amazingly – the 103rd edition.  What started off as a simple gathering of brick-and-mortar stores  to discuss business has turned into a major technology showcase for omnichannel selling.  That freighted word – omnichannel – is finally beginning to mean something.  Today, retailers and etailers, of all shapes and sizes (from giants like Macys to trendsetters like Warby Parker) come to meet with Google, Amazon, Ebay, Microsoft, IBM, Samsung, Panasonic, and 100s more – to see how they can collaborate.

The exhibit halls are huge, filled with attention-grabbing hijinks at the major booths such as talking robots, magicians, breakdancers, digital portrait artists, book signings, and lots of complementary food and drink.   (Would you prefer the freshly made Godiva chocolates or a latte from Momofuku Milk Bar?)  It is fun, if a bit overwhelming.

Yet, this carnival atmosphere wasn’t masking the trends.  Let me highlight three:  improving customers’ in-store experience; making big data more useful; and channel integration in general.

In-Store Experience

Many exhibitors were focused on the customer experience.  One sweet spot is the very recent, hot topic of iBeacon technology (and it’s slightly older cousin, NFC).  , The idea is to elevate the customer experience, by personalizing it based on location, product buying history, etc.  A quick example is the idea of a customer entering a store and having their phone “announce” their arrival.  Based on their membership data, let’s say, in a drugstore’s loyalty program, the customer would be given an offer for that place and time – “Hey, Tim.  Welcome back.  It’s been 4 weeks since you were last here, do you need more ____?  It’s $5 off for you today.”  Because iBeacon can be tweaked with entry and exit signals, there could even be a return offer – “Thanks, Tim.  Come back in the next 10 days and get $5 more off ____.  See you soon!”  People crave a more personal shopping experience.  (Full disclosure:  I am working on a start-up using iBeacon technology.)

More Useful Big Data

Another common theme was focusing in on what to do with all the accumulating data, from transaction records and shipping data, to customer service recordings and social media postings.  Companies from SAS to Teradata to Experian, and dozens more, were all in the conversation.  For years, online and offline retailers have been urged to collect any and all data, and then told of the benefits of that – BIG – data.  But until recently, these same retailers weren’t quite sure what to do with it all.  The data comes from many sources.  It comes in vast quantities.  One quick example for how companies are using this data, is taking social messaging  and connecting it to shopping preferences.  Retailers are watching consumer activity closely on their Pinterest or Instagram pages, and they’re visiting and learning from consumers’ own social pages as well.  Some are taking shopping data and social data and using it to develop products or even hire in a more targeted fashion.  This last one is clever – If I am a top customer of a site and/or a store, I regularly share my purchases socially, and I engage the company, perhaps I could be a good candidate for a social media marketing role there?  Yes, those algorithms are being run.

Channel Integration

Perhaps the biggest trend seen at this year’s BIG SHOW was proposals to use technology to better connect one shopping channel to the other.  Retail stores that set-up independent Ecommerce teams back in the 1990s are not just meeting more often, they are finding more and more ways to work together.  One notion is the “shoppable store window”.   The most-talked about example is a collaboration between Ebay and Kate Spade.  Here, a giant touchscreen is placed in a store window, and consumers can order 24/7 from a selection of items displayed in that window.  Not only that, in this instance, they offer one hour delivery to anywhere in Manhattan (yes, 24/7)!  One other example is the refinement of the “reserve in store” concept.  In this, you shop online (phone, tablet, desktop, laptop) and are asked if, instead of waiting for delivery, you would like to pick this up in your local store.  Sometimes discounts are offered, but the added flexibility – and the spontaneity – seems to be enough of an incentive for shoppers.  The latest for 2014 is that companies are working to merge all the warehouse and fulfillment data, with all the store data, and all that juicy customer data.  What will be next?  I’ll do my best to find out and report it here!

On a personal note, it is great to be part of this amazing team of Ecommerce Consultants!  I look forward to contributing on a weekly basis.

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