NRF 2015: what are the latest innovations in the retail market?
With over 35,000 visitors this year, the Retail’s Big Show, the annual exhibition and conference organised by the National Retail Federation (NRF) in the US, recorded an increase of over 15% in admissions compared to 2014. This trend can be explained by the international influence of the event and the growing involvement of technology partners (600, as opposed to 525 last year). So what trends can we expect to see among the retailers of tomorrow?

Retail’s Big Show, the largest annual gathering of retail professionals in the world, took place in New York from 11thto 14th January. Its 104th edition featured: the resurgence of bricks & mortar (physical stores); the customer experience in-store; the digitised shopping experience; and the convergence of channels. Localisation, personalisation, and so on – there are so many trends affecting retail these days. Meanwhile, social media is increasingly making its mark in retail and being used to enhance the customer experience. So here’s an overview.

Brick is the new black

This was THE big announcement for this year’s show: that physical stores are coming back into fashion, following a long period given over to ecommerce pure players dominating the retail scene. According to Bill Simon, former boss of Wallmart: “We have reached a peak in terms of pure e-commerce. Most of the growth in the last two years has come about through the interaction of physical and online retail.”

Today, everything revolves around service, the customer experience and personalisation at the point-of-sale, with physical stores returning to their former glory. And there are plenty of examples of this: Warby Parker (glasses), Bite Beauty, Selfridges etc.

Neil Stern of the Ebeltof group said at the conference when describing the latest concepts and ideas driving change: “What differentiates us from e-commerce is our core retail experience and that’s our real weapon!”

The current trend is seeing more and more retailers transform their stores into lifestyle destinations, like, for instance at Ralph Lauren, which offers three distinct worlds for customers to immerse themselves in at its New York store on Madison Avenue. The ground floor, which is dedicated to men, has everything you’d expect to see at a mountain lodge, including a snowmobile at the entrance, a large fireplace and canoes on the ceiling. The first floor, dedicated to women, evokes the atmosphere of the 60’s, with a little white cafe that boasts panoramic views of the avenue below. And the top floor, dedicated to children, is brought to life with bright colours.

A digital shopping experience: from buzzword to reality

A digital transformation in retail has been talked about for a long time, but now it’s becoming a reality. For instance, the ready-to-wear brand Rebecca Minkoff has equipped its stores with interactive eBay mirrors that allow customers to see the latest catwalk collections and choose clothes to try on directly from the fitting room, by touching on the screen. And thanks to RFID chips attached to the garments, customers can visualise how they’ll look. The digital mirrors can also be used to adjust the lighting in the fitting rooms, to request another garment, or even order a coffee. This not only provides much better customer service, but also valuable insights into what customers try on but don’t necessarily buy.

Neiman Marcus, the famous American department store, has also recently equipped one of its California stores with smart mirrors. The idea here is to allow customers trying on successive garments to see them all alongside each other and choose those they like the most. So, if you’re not really sure between two colours? Never mind, the mirror will show you how they compare. Other new features include: being able to send items selected in-store on the smart mirror directly to the retailer’s mobile site; and sales staff and stylists being able to make personalised recommendations via the mirror. Given the popularity and success of these new initiatives, expect to see more.

All networks lead to the store!

A large number of American brands have been turning to social networks to try and improve customer loyalty and gather invaluable data; something that’s crucial for the relationship that retailers have with their communities. The president of Levi’s, James Curleigh, during the ‘Brick is the new black’ conference, compared the retail business to the music industry by encouraging retailers to see their customers as “fans”. It’s an observation also shared by Stéphane Bohbot, the founder of Lick, who set up the company after realising there were no retail store chains dedicated to connected objects.

The year of clienteling!

Something that was underlined during the first plenary session at NRF, and repeated throughout the conference by various retail gurus, was the central role of data and how it affects a retailer’s performance. But with the multitude of data generated today, you still need to move from Big Data to Smart Data to get the most out of this information. And that’s the whole point of clienteling: getting to know your customer better so you can offer more suitable products, via their preferred channels, whilst upholding a unique shopping experience and exceptional support throughout.

“Given the rising expectations of customers these days, retailers can only stand out by the experience they offer both online and offline,” said Tania Oakey, retail marketing director at Cegid.

“At Cegid, we believe that this experience can only be achieved by getting to know your customer, so that you can give more personalised service and advice. For us, the future of retail lies in clienteling; and, only those brands able to master this important strategic step, by focusing on service, will survive in a market that’s increasingly competitive.”

Personalisation: from the customer relationship to the product

The desire of the consumer to be considered, above all, as an individual, is finally starting to be understood by retailers. Some retailers can now personally greet a customer from the moment they enter a store and many offer something that’s unique and customised, according to their exact needs and preferences. Selfridges, the UK department store, for instance, offers customers the possibility of creating bespoke perfumes in its Fragrance Lab, depending on their tastes and personality. Similarly, Bite Beauty, the Canadian beauty brand, allows visitors to its pop-up store in New York the chance to develop their own lipsticks.

Finally, if there was one lesson to be learned from this 104th edition of Retail’s Big Show, it’s that the store has taken its rightful place, that the web channel is no longer enough, and that the future of retail lies in omni-channel retailing.