Skip links

NRF 2020: 8 Highlights Coming Out of this Year’s Big Show

2020 may have started on Jan. 1 but it wouldn’t truly feel like the new year without attending NRF’s Big Show. From Jan. 12-14, the biggest retail tech providers descended upon New York City to showcase the future of retail. As always, there was plenty to see and lots to unpack.

NRF 2020’s Biggest Trends

From POS systems to AI, the usual suspects were all present at this year’s show. However, in the sea of technology and use cases, it was impossible to escape some of the biggest trends on the show floor, including…

Continued Omnichannel Investments

While omnichannel investments used to be “nice to have,” it’s now a true necessity. With NRF being one of retailers’ first public event following the holidays, Nikki Baird, Forbes contributor and VP of Retail Innovation at Aptos, examined retailers’ post-holidays feelings.

“This year, it was a very mixed bag. I found that even retailers in the same category had very different holiday experiences. Why? Turns out, the answer is omnichannel. The retailers who were toasting the town were retailers who had come into holiday 2019 with at least two of the four major omnichannel use cases: endless aisle (either buy in store, ship from e-commerce DC or buy in store, ship from alternate store), buy online, pick up in store (more commonly referred to as BOPIS), or buy online, ship from store (BOSFS). The retailers who were crying in their drinks had not made these investments.”

Ethical Retailing showcased at NRF 2020

As consumers’ concerns around the environment, security and more grow, retailers are becoming hyper aware of the ethical nature of their business. According to Progressive Grocer’s Mike Troy and Abby Kleckler, “sustainability and transparency are topics retailers speak of often and many of the solutions presented at NRF enable companies to achieve initiatives in both areas.”

Meanwhile, Total Retail noted:

“Several retailers discussed new or ongoing sustainability programs as well as the concept of re-commerce, including a great session featuring Patagonia’s Worn Wear initiative and Loop, a zero-waste company partnering with the world’s largest brands to offer quality, reusable items. Another keynote discussed the re-commerce revolution and how upcycling is retail’s future, featuring leaders from thredUp, Rebag, and Urban Outfitters’ Nuuly brand.”

Practical Applications

NRF has traditionally featured “futuristic” technologies seeking to drop jaws. However, most exhibitors approached this year’s show with more sensible use-cases for technology – showcasing technologies solving existing problems rather than simply hyping up technology for the sake of being forward looking.

According to Chain Store Age’s Dan Berthaiume, “2020 marked the year that retail technology emerged as an everyday utility at the NRF conference. Retailers are still using technology solutions to do amazing things, but in ways that provide real business value rather than make your eyes pop wide.”

Looking more specifically at AI – which has been every industry’s most flashy feature over the years – RSR Research observed:

“We were able to see a plethora of solid use cases that AI-enabled solutions can address. Whether related to the customer facing side (hyper personalization), demand planning (the ability to model demand, using market, competitive, and environmental factors, in addition to past sales), supply chain (positioning inventory for complex fulfillment strategies), or D/C and store operations (robotics), AI technologies have found their way into solutions that are intended to address the new business reality.”

What Wowed Us on the Show Floor at NRF 2020

Once on the show floor, the future of retail reared its head. Some of the trends that jumped out at us:

  • Consumer Experience is EverythingIntel’s booth was a great example of something that many exhibitors brought to life: the incredible progress that’s been made creating a frictionless and immersive environment for shoppers in a retail setting. Whether the shopping journey takes place in- or outside the home, retailers and their technology partners are pushing creative solutions to engage hearts, minds and loyalty. From immersive storytelling to facial recognition check-outs, robotic baristas and transparent touchscreens worthy of a James Bond film, there was a real wow factor to be seen in the Intel booth and across the expo hall.
  • Extending the Reach of Devices – Handheld devices are gaining even more capabilities as both Microsoft and Samsung announced new push-to-talk and Microsoft Teams functionality in an effort to engage more hourly workers (sound familiar?). These announcements further validate and recognize that the hourly workforce is a critical opportunity within the store landscape that companies must find ways to better operationalize. Even with these new developments, however, the same hurdle remains. No matter how many capabilities they offer, handheld devices are still too expensive for deployment at scale and don’t physically fit the way this segment of the workforce operates.
  • Knowing the Customer by Harnessing Your Data – Another big trend emerging this year was the clarity of the message around data and analytics. Customers expect the brands they favor to know them and use that knowledge to give them a better experience. This seemed to be the year that most people we spoke with confessed that it isn’t all about collecting data but using it effectively to craft a better experience in the store. Satya Nadella CEO, Microsoft, called it “enabling intelligent retail.”
  • Associate Empowerment We’d be remiss not to mention this theme that hits close to home for us at Theatro. John Furner, President and CEO, Walmart (formerly Sam’s Club), said during his keynote, “the technology of the day [is] moving to the sales floor,” which is how Sam’s Club is getting their most skilled and highest paid employees out of the back office and onto the sales floor where they’re needed most.

“Jobs are changing,” Furner explained. They now require more training, more engagement, and more information todeliver up to shoppers’ expectations and against the seamless execution requirements omnichannel success demands.

John Solomon, VP of Chrome OS at Google continued the theme: “Real-time associate access to systems is critical. We have come to expect it in our personal lives and need to find ways to provide it at the enterprise level.”

As always, it was a busy, eye-opening, exhilarating, informative and fun NRF. 2020 will bring plenty of changes that a single conference cannot predict – however, it’s great to see the industry focusing on practical ways to approach such areas as omnichannel, data and associate empowerment. As retailers continue to invest in these areas wisely, the future of retail looks bright.

Missed Theatro at NRF 2020? Be sure to check out the video from our Exhibitor Big Ideas session with an In-Store Innovation Panel including Walgreens and Total Wine & More. Or reach out to us at sales@theatro.com to:

  • Explore how Theatro can solve the unique challenges that you face
  • Evaluate which workforce optimized apps address your unique needs
  • Experience Theatro technology firsthand
Creating Digital Connections for Better Human Connections

Discover the benefits of QR codes