Another edition of Retail’s Big Show (my 14th time attending) is in the books. NRF 2024 selected Make it Matter as the theme. From the conversations at the SOTI booth, making things matter – for retailers and customers – is apt.
Thanks to everyone who visited and attended our speaking sessions. Can’t wait to return in 2025.
Before then, here are six highlights from the show:
1. Real-Time Visibility into Business Operations Is Essential
Just knowing, for example, how much inventory is in any given store isn’t enough. Retailers want insights into what’s always happening at all touchpoints. For example:
- When will fresh inventory be delivered to stores
- What devices are experiencing downtime and when
- Who is on track to complete their deliveries on time and who is behind
- Where problems – such as poor signal strength of store associate devices – are occurring
Retail is a competitive industry and retailers are looking for a competitive edge. That edge could be found if tech issues are identified and resolved before they impact store associates’ ability to provide excellent customer service. Or it could be found by optimizing delivery routes in real-time to ensure faster delivery of inventory. It can even be found inside a clean, well-maintained washroom for customers. But total visibility into all operations is required to find that edge.
At NRF 2024, there was a mindset shift. Before it was all about resolving problems as quickly as possible. Now it’s about preventing them from happening in the first place.
2. Consumers Want AI
From our upcoming retail report – Techspectations: Consumer Demand for Digital Transformation in Retail – launching Tuesday, January 30:
23% of consumers are excited about how AI will be used by
retailers to improve and personalize the retail experience online and in-store
AI is a swift, intelligent assistant. Online, consumers appreciate getting recommendations based on past purchases or repurchase reminders.
At NRF, discussions centered on bringing AI to in-store shopping and leveraging consumer data to meet their shopping needs.
Think about the pain points consumers have in-store:
- Insufficient product information
- Floor staff aren’t always available and may not have the product knowledge depth consumers want
- Waiting while floor staff look up the answers to their questions
Those pain points don’t exist online. Information is on-screen or accessible within a few clicks. Everyone had a take on how to bring AI and the best of the online shopping experience in-store.
3. Retailers Need AI
Retailers talked about how AI can improve operational efficiency, employee productivity and bottom-line revenue. Use cases mentioned include:
- Training and skills development: AI-driven training for new in-store employees with realistic scenarios and real-time feedback.
- Employee productivity: Talking beats texting. Team members need product knowledge and expertise ASAP to better serve customers. AI can provide it.
- Product information: Writing more informative product descriptions for consumers. Meanwhile, content is optimized for better online searchability.
Retail knew AI was coming. What would it look like? How it could be leveraged? The answers became clearer at NRF 2024.
Something I overheard: When ChatGPT became easy to understand and use, it really took off. Retail executives supported the use of AI in 2023. There’s no reason that will change in 2024.
4. Printers: Always Important
Yearly at NRF, people talk about printers. Usually about the following:
- Deployment: Installing and setting up printers is inefficient and time-consuming
- Downtime: Printer problems negatively impact retail operations
- Management: Tough to identify and troubleshoot problems without having to physically touch the printer
- ROI: Retailers spend heavily but aren’t sure if they’re maximizing the return on investment
In Techspectations, when kiosks with printing capabilities1 go down in-store, 34% of consumers say there’s not enough staff to resolve issues. It was an epiphany: printers require the same level of management and performance as other business-critical mobile devices
5. End-to-End Digital Transformation is Vital
A conversation I had repeatedly:
- Visitor: “I want to digitally transform our processes but there’s too many”
- Me: “Don’t transform everything at once. Start with a single process and go one at a time”
Every attendee at NRF 2024 knows they must deliver great experiences. Digital transformation is a big part of that. Moving away from manual processes, providing real-time updates on delivery status, etc. all play a role. In Techspectations: 80% of consumers identified at least one benefit of digital intervention in the shopping experience.
Retailers also recognize that digital transformation must be end-to-end. It should be in the warehouse, on the delivery truck and on the store floor to be impactful. At NRF, it was obvious: the transition to digital must be seamless and simple.
6. Powerful Partnerships
I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Tractor Supply Company (TSC) for two speaking sessions: The Journey So Far - Empowering Team Member Mobility and The Journey Ahead – Generative AI in Retail.
It was cool to see TSC’s Hey GURA app as an example of AI in action. With it, TSC is helping their staff speak with knowledge and confidence about any products they stock. TSC is using AI as a helpful assistant who can provide answers to any questions customers have at a moment’s notice. The days of associates not knowing or not having information are over.
TSC was able to deploy Hey GURA quickly, thanks to SOTI. They’re also able to update the app quickly based on user feedback. TSC can try new things, learn from their efforts, iterate accordingly – and repeat as often as needed – to continually improve the app and the experience it delivers.
Final Thoughts from NRF 2024
The theme at NRF was Make it Matter and everything mentioned here is designed to create personalized, frictionless shopping experiences.
Why is it important for retailers to bring the online shopping experience in-store? Why must detailed product information be readily available? Why are printers an essential part of shopping? Why is digital transformation a vital endeavor?
Because that’s what matters to consumers.