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3 Takeaways from NRF 2020

Posted by Emily Fanning on Jan 24, 2020
Emily Fanning

For this retail nerd, there is nothing quite as energizing as being surrounded by 40,000 commerce professionals and thought leaders who are all invested in the debate of how technology is changing the retail experience. NRF 2020 continued to boast some of the same buzzwords and themes we've heard for the past handful of shows—omnichannel, AI, big data—but a true focus on the customer and the delivering of a frictionless experience felt more prominent than ever before.

Here are just a few of our takeaways from the world's largest retail conference and expo.

Customer convenience is (still) key.

In a world of smart mirrors and in-store cocktail bars, it's easy to forget that while experiential retail is becoming the norm, convenience is still core to any successful business. At the end of the day, customers demand an easy and seamless experience more than a frosé bar or virtual bike ride through France. A recent NRF survey found that 83% of consumers value convenience now more than they did five years ago, and 97% have backed out of a purchase because the process was inconvenient.

The irony of it all is ecommerce saw such initial success based on the convenience it was able to offer shoppers—I can order everything from an evening gown to a crib with just a few clicks from the comfort of my couch—but we've come to find that the majority of today's consumers value the convenience of a brick and mortar location even moreso. This was especially evident in all of the discussions around shipping and returns. In addition to convenience, customers want instant gratification, and buy online, pick up in store has come to be expected.

They also don't want to dedicate more than minimal effort to returns and exchanges. Waiting for your delivery, repackaging it, waiting in the post office line, reordering the correct size, waiting for the replacement...it's obvious why shoe brands like Schutz and Alexandre Birman are dedicated to creating an omnichannel experience, we learned from their Head of Digital and ecommerce, Zahia Ghossaini. Customers are able to return online orders to any store location, giving sales associates an easy opportunity to turn that return into an exchange and upsell them.

The key, of course, is an omnichannel POS in which inventory and orders are synced across the enterprise, allowing retailers to reference any customer purchase—no matter where it took place—and accept the return in any store or warehouse, while sourcing it back to the original channel of purchase.


NRF 2020 made it clear that there has been a serious shift in consumer behavior and the way we look at our closets. From what they're producing, to how much they're producing, to how much is being thrown away, and how it's all packaged, brands are listening to the fact that 68% of consumers consider product sustainability to be an important factor when making purchases.

It's especially evident with younger shoppers: We learned in a session with thredUP CEO Anthony Marino that one in three Gen Z consumers say they buy second-hand clothing. Not only is it a reflection of their values, but it's a way for them to attain luxury items at a more affordable price point. They're also very comfortable with buying and selling, as well as renting, lending to the success of resale and recommerce companies like thredUP and Rent the Runway.

"It's not enough to sign a code of conduct. At Lush, we're creating a cosmetics revolution to save the planet."

– Heather Deeth, Manager of Ethical Buying at Lush –

Personalized Service and Offers

I doubt there's a retailer out there who will fight you on the need to collect more customer data, but the question that continued to arise is, are we doing enough with that data?

Piers Fawkes of PSFK told us on Day 1 that 78% of consumers are interested in receiving relevant, personalized recommendations or offers while they're shopping in stores. Here's an opportunity for retailers to arm their sales associates with customer data on mobile devices to deliver that 1:1 curated experience from the moment they walk in the door. Knowing their most shopped brands and categories, size, style preferences—the ability to act on this is what sets retailers apart from their competition. Brands like Frank & Oak even train their staff to act as soon as a high-spending customer is in the vicinity, offering them a coffee upon arrival.

NRF 2020 RecapAnd while having real-time customer dashboards allow you to access data instantly, 57% of shoppers are interested in scheduling appointments online to meet with in-store sales associates; with that advanced notice coupled with the customer data you already have, imagine the possibilities...and profitability.

There's a real missed opportunity, we heard, to offer the same customer experience any time they may come into the store for a return, as well. You already have their purchase history at your fingertips: use it to upsell them; turn the return into an exchange or even additional purchase.

To keep the cycle going effectively, though, data should be collected at every touchpoint, including post-purchase. In a session with StitchFix Chief Algorithm Officer Brad Klingenberg, we're told "compelling self-interest drives feedback loops"; convince customers that by providing feedback, you're able to make their experience better. Need an extra incentive? Brands can offer discounts off future purchases or the option to be entered into a gift card giveaway if they share their feedback through a survey.

Headless commerce, experiential retail, and artificial intelligence were other themes that graced the stages and expo of NRF 2020—you can download slide decks from select presentations here.

Until next year!

Personalization starts with knowing your customer inside and out.

And knowing your customer starts with collecting the right data. Choose a POS with easy-to-use built-in customer relationship management tools that help you delight your customers every day.

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Topics: Events, Business of Retail