The NRF floor was once again full of bright and shiny things. It would be easy to picture a shopping cart in your head and say “I’ll have one of those, and one of those, and two of those”. Most of them designed to remove humans or cost from the retail business. This may be an important part of your strategy, but it is hopefully much deeper than that. Our number one rule is that innovation is only sustainable when it solves a customer problem, does something for the retailer and aligns with your purpose for being in business. Individual innovations like removing mediocre jobs (like changing price tickets) to enable front line team members to focus entirely on the customer is extremely important, but it can’t just be executed as a new price ticket system, it must be deeper and more meaningful than that. Another key theme of the show was the introduction of tools that enable team members to personalize and rapidly craft a solution with a customer. This is an example of where the rule was followed. Improve productivity (retailer benefit), personalise customer experience (customer benefit) in a brand specific way (purpose).
Here were the top themes I saw on the Expo floor:
- Automation of store maintenance tasks such as price tickets, merchandising & stock management. Making store life easier for the associate so they can focus on the customer, whilst making it more efficient for everyone. A huge number of retailers still see this as a foundation of their technology innovation pipeline, although you shouldn’t let it take all your innovation energy. Check out the big players; Microsoft, Intel, Sap etc but don’t miss some of those dedicated to retail like OneDoor.
- Human-less checkout, including trolleys that give any retailer the chance to offer an Amazon Gostyle experience. If efficiency is meaningful to your customers, there are lots of examples of technology that can allow you to create that experience. Caper was a popular cart experience on the innovation expo floor.
- Data datadata! The sheer mass of analytical engines available was staggering. All offering the same foundation with their own flavor, there are several smaller more nimble providers in this space now that will reduce the cost to retailers to implement better data analytic solutions.
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning – helping consultants focus their training, helping customers learn about new products relating to their lifestyle, right through to an ability to predict stock outs. The big players have some pretty incredible products here, but there are so many smaller startups entering the space as well.
This is only part of the true innovation opportunity, though. There are countless examples of retailers who are innovating in the way they attract and recruit people, train them, measure and reward them and the tools they are given to perform their role. Showfields, a mini-mall dedicated to providing space for digitally native brands to dip their toes in physical retail, doesn’t focus on sales incentives, but instead creating an environment that people want to come to work and succeed in. They are part of a higher purpose to help grow startup brands, to be there on the ground floor selling things they believe in. This creates an immense brand affiliation, an energy on the floor that is incredibly rare, as well as an ability to be entirely devoted to customer experience.
Nike in their House of Innovation have proven the value of localization and personalization by two means. Firstly, the basement floor of the building uses trending digital and store data to make it quick and easy to find what New Yorkers are wanting. Get in, get out with the products that everyone wants. Using data to continuously update the stock in the section, it allows locals to avoid the bright and shiny upstairs and just get those running pants they were looking at online.
Theatre is the biggest trending part of the experience evolution (the topic of my next NRF post), and some big brands are creating stunning examples of theatre that leaves people speechless, except on social media where they are sharing at an unbelievable rate. CAMP, a project from the creative team at BuzzFeed, is a Toy Store with a difference. It looks like a well-designed store when you first walk-in, until you see a team member with a magic sword standing by a wall of candy. They quickly introduce you to the secret door that opens to something like Alice in