Expo hall at Retail’s BIG Show 2016

Last week, three members of Education at Work’s business development and marketing team had an exciting opportunity to attend the National Retail Federation (NRF) Retail’s BIG Show in New York City. As an organization, the NRF is over 40,000 members strong and has a leadership team from top retailers all over the world. As the “voice of retail”, the NRF is changing the way people buy and sell goods by focusing its mission on innovation within all aspects of the retail industry. The group has embraced being the catalyst for change in the industry helping all retailers, large and small, become successful.

At this year’s event, our team quickly realized that calling it a “BIG Show” was not an exaggeration. Over 33,000 attendees from all over the world represented over 540 retail companies and participated in engaging discussions in a 200,000 sq. ft. exhibition hall. Even by dividing and conquering, the Education at Work team was only able to experience a fraction of the BIG Show festivities. However, our team was strategic about attending the most relevant sessions to our model and the event was a major success. The team captured insights and key takeaways to share from the speaking engagements and networking sessions. Here’s a recap of what our team learned:

Shinola speaking engagement

Presentation slide from “Creating an American Brand for the Future”

When it comes to the challenges faced in the retail industry, size does not really matter. Players of all sizes are facing the same sorts of challenges and issues when engaging their customers.

As the largest consumer base of all-time, millennials (along with Generation Z) continue to be an essential part of shaping the future of retail. It’s especially important to these consumers that brands make a difference in the communities in which their retail business operates. In the speaking session “Creating an American Brand for the Future“, the made-in-Detroit brand Shinola was showcased as a grassroots start-up that cares as much about creating jobs in the community as it does about making profits on its quality watches and bicycles. At this session, Heath Carr, COO of Shinola’s parent company, emphasized that the brand of the future’s mission is not selling products on a mass scale. Instead, being sustainable on their own terms and integrating into a community is a much higher priority.

Omnichannel still continues to be a major retail trend, but a focus on improved technology and retail innovation is at the forefront. The changes in technology within retail are taking place at a rapid pace and are making omnichnnel solutions more efficient. For example, retailers are revamping their own processes and plans to better serve customers. Malcolm Goonetileke, SVP of Merchandise Planning and Inventory Management at Levi Strauss, spoke about how he recently cut down from nearly 40 different planning systems to just a few. In a separate session, Lois Huff, VP of Client Insights at The Limited, stressed that a “feedback loop is key” to gather and analyze customer opinions so product innovation can happen. Craig Fleishman, SVP of Corporate Development at Rebecca Minkoff, stressed the importance of being early to new social media platforms to connect with retail influencers and build an early customer base.

Improving the customer service experience is increasingly important for retailers to help customers get what they need exactly when they need it. In order to make things more efficient, customer service for retailers is moving towards new technologies, such as virtual online shoppers and Tweet support.

Our team also attended sessions on changing processes to make the store experience and buying experience more efficient, easier and integrated for shoppers. Capturing customers as soon as they walk in the door and capitalizing on their impulse purchasing decisions was stressed in a session that featured executives from KraftHeinz, GameStop, Mondolez International, and Shelfbucks. Data and analytics are critical to get a snapshot of where things are and connect with customers to learn their buying patterns.

At the session that featured the SVP of Marketing & Customer Experience of Virgin Atlantic Airways, a process was described for collecting and analyzing customer data more efficiently. First, set realistic goals for helping customers that you can measure in a short timeframe. Next, analyze the data from these goals and learn to adapt to make the process more efficient, then continue to innovate until you get it right and your customers are satisfied.

Overall, the theme of the BIG Show was educating the attendees, bringing them up to speed on everything they wanted to know about trends and innovation in retail. By networking, our team had over 45 engaging discussions with fellow attendees, turning these into positive relationships to take away from the event. Clearly, there are some BIG things going on in retail!

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