NRF 2020: Putting the “AI” in Retail
As always too common, retail is often written about as an industry that is in decline and needs triple bypass heart surgery to bring it back to the good old days where stores were packed with excited customers ready to spend their hard-earned cash. It is hard to argue that retail is not in a tough period when so many retailers continue to close unprofitable stores and we see some legendary brands going out of business altogether.
That said, if like me you were one of the 40,000 people visiting New York City last weekend to attend the NRF conference, I hope you took the time to visit some of the retailers that are truly innovating and inspiring the latest generation of customers to continue to spend their disposable cash. Only now, retailers are very much offering a new level of customer experience, products that are truly sustainable for the planet, and ease of shopping that makes the effort of still using ‘brick and mortar’ a pleasurable experience.
Here are some highlights of the retail brands at the NRF conference doing just that:
Woolrich — Founded in 1830 by John Rich and Daniel McCormick, Woolrich is the oldest manufacturer of outdoor wear in the United States. With this retailer, we are not exactly talking about the new generation of retailers replacing the old. At this store in downtown NYC, if you want to test out the performance of purchasing a new winter jacket, you can step into this refrigerated-controlled freezer designed as a winter forest landscape to see how the clothing item performs at -27°C (-17°F).
Woolrich’s refrigerated-controlled freezer.
Allbirds — They are focused completely on producing a shoe using only sustainable natural resources. There are no flashy logos and no senseless details. Just the world’s most comfortable shoes made naturally and designed practically. Allbirds is a great example of the growing trend of retailers focusing on preserving the environment.
Sustainability is a top priority at Allbirds.
Nudie Jeans — All Nudie Jeans denim is made with 100% organic cotton. Their jeans are not designed to be used a few times and then thrown away. They want their customers to cherish the well-worn and after thousands of times of wear. If they need mending, Nudie Jeans will take care of this for you, all part of their service.
A closer look at how Nudie Jeans are made.
- Nike — The innovation continues with some of the largest brands in the world such as Nike. They offer both experiences and ease of shopping with their basketball court located on the 5th floor of their NYC store, as well as easy checkout for purchases (as long as you are signed up and using their Nike app.
Checking out Nike’s indoor basketball court.
Amazon 4-star — As is often the case, Amazon is used as the barometer of what is going on in retail today, and so it was no surprise when I got to visit their fantastic store that only sells items that have been rated 4-stars or above. Providing customer confidence that what is being sold in this store has a high level of satisfaction from their customer peers.
Stepping into Amazon’s 4-star store.
Moving on to the NRF conference itself to summarize what was being showcased and talked about by the retailers and tech vendors. It was all about execution for 2020. There was no new technology. The dominant tech was all about AI with vendors such as DataRobot, but this time the focus was on demonstrating and talking about how to use AI and machine learning in a practical approach.
The stories told in the Expo Hall were of real-life retail examples, such as Kroger and Carrefour, delivering business value to their customers and business through the deployment of automated machine learning techniques and how retailers are now transitioning their data decisions to be AI-driven. The most encouraging parts were the conversations we had with retailers over the three days. You could feel that the tide is now turning and AI is very much understood as a technology in retail and that now it is about expanding the use to drive further innovation, offering engagement and success between retailers and customers as we head full steam ahead into 2020.
So, as someone who has worked in or for retailers over the past 30 years, I have never been so optimistic about retail as I was after my trip to New York for NRF that was full of rich conversations with retail professionals.