NRF 2014 had a lot more international flair to it in comparison to previous years. By far, the largest foreign retailing crowd ought to be from Brazil. Even our booth saw a disproportionately larger Brazilian footfall. The show, as the recent trend has been, got bigger, although not necessarily better. There was the usual glitz and noise about the latest and the greatest in retail and consumer technologies. The keynotes sessions, always a big draw, turned out to be a scheduling malfunction. The top speaker, Jack Dorsey, the founder of twitter and square, was scheduled for Wednesday, which essentially meant no access for 90% of attendees who would have filed out of big apple on Tuesday night at the closure of expo.  In any case, George W Bush, the keynote speaker on Tuesday, shared his wisdom about conducting oneself with honor, dignity and poise during crisis like war situations he had faced during his presidency.

Among the big technology conversations at the show, the most were centered on 3 core issues grappling most retailers: 1.The cloud is finally getting ‘out of cloud’ and getting into retailers’ technology and IT infrastructure ecosystems. Most retailers were either in process of offloading core administration functions to cloud based offerings, or were beginning to seriously think about understanding the implications of ‘going to cloud’. The Target customer data theft story from previous week raised additional questions about the protection of critical customer data stored on multi-tenant public clouds.  2. Management of extraordinarily growing data from unstructured data sources such as social media, also known as big data, is being increasingly perceived as a key competitive advantage by retailers. Agile retailers are looking to tap into the Big Data and dig out insights about customer behavior, and package those insights into tailored customer experience offerings as a strategy to leapfrog the competition. 3. Digitization of information surrounding consumers and retail economy is paving the way for consumerization and forcing retailers to seriously think of an enterprise digital strategy. A well thought out digital strategy entails taking a holistic approach to deliver the ‘me’ experience to consumers by embarking on strategic initiatives that enable real time customer connectivity, endless customer collaboration and transparent flow of omni-channel sales, product and marketing information.

Mobile security and mobile payments are seeing more adoption, and are primarily driven by customers of independent small retailers and service providers. Lack of an industry standard for securing mobile payments directly through mobile phones is major roadblock faced by national retailers in their attempts to roll out mobile payments. In the end, management of social media continues to confound retailers, especially the ones going after millennial.  Based on a recent research, millennial born after 1998 are primarily using Snapchat as a main social media, and when those millennial were inquired about Facebook, quick came the reply: ‘oh yeah, we do go to Facebook once in a while,  just to know what our parents are up to’.

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