New York's 2019 NRF show was buzzing, with over 700 stands from the usual stalwarts and a strong contingent of emerging technology companies in attendance.
The key themes played around several prevailing sector dynamics:
The store is dead, long live the store: Let's be clear, despite the current negative narrative, the physical store is a dominant part of the retail landscape. While e-commerce and m-commerce continue to climb in prominence, the store is still far and away the preferred point of purchase. That said, the shop's on and offline offering need to be aligned to ensure the customer journey is as seamless as possible given online's influence of in-store purchases.
Ecommerce players are coming to the high street: Amazon plans to have 3,100 Go stores by 2021 ($4.5bn of sales). The experience enables consumers to walk in, browse, pick and go without touching a checkout, and be automatically billed as they leave.
Eastern hemisphere disruptive players such as JD.COM and Alibaba are also making material in-roads into their domestic high streets.
While a relatively small initial market impact, traditional bricks and mortar retailers are taking note and there is an increasing focus on systems investment to enable a single view of the basket and customer, regardless of how a consumer shops.
Customer insight and interaction: Data analytics, follow-on decision making and customer interaction companies were in strong force at the show. I counted numerous stands with AI featuring heavily in their primary messaging. We expect this theme to increase in prominence given the value contained within the high volume of available data in the sector.
Logistics is key: Supply, store, pick, deliver and return are subject areas getting increased air time as companies strive to streamline the back of store and bring a better delivery and return experience to the consumer. A number of warehouse and store shelf robotics companies also drew in the crowds; even my hotel had a luggage storage robot!
Retail is changing again and both brick and clicks retailers will need to embrace best of breed technology to succeed. We expect to see exciting innovation in the space.