NRF 2017, Retail’s BIG Show, in New York City proved to be another information-packed conference, highlighting trends, innovators, and case studies in the retail industry. Topics ranged from security and technology enablement to improving the guest experience.

How DEG helped retailer Crocs bring email customer journeys to life.

The amount of information shared was overwhelming after three days, but below are seven key takeaways from NRF 2017.

Stores Still Critical

While e-commerce continues to grow, its sales only represent eight percent of total retail sales.

While e-commerce continues to grow, and grow faster than retail overall, e-commerce sales represented only eight percent of total retail sales. This means 92 percent of sales are still being done in stores. Retailers understand e-commerce will continue to fuel overall growth. But more importantly they understand that in-store sales are being heavily influenced by digital channels. Improving the digital experience by ensuring content is accurate and information is helpful means diversifying priorities for digital managers.

How Kohl’s is Utilizing Technology

Kohl’s was impressive. Its technology leadership spoke at several sessions at the show. Kohl’s is transforming its stores by bringing the digital experience into the store experience. The brand is taking a hard look at what technologies will enable it to transform the business, in particular the areas of machine learning, artificial intelligence, chatbots, and automation.

Some of its more interesting initiatives include using chatbots, not only for customer service, but also for internal use. Kohl’s is testing chatbots to help IT manage computer password resets and explore other ways it can help transform the business.

I am excited to test the improvements to the mobile app. They have developed a platform that brings the coupons, loyalty program points, and product purchasing together for a seamless, efficient, and frictionless checkout in store.

But most enlightening was how Kohl’s CTO evaluates his teams and their projects. Engineers and developers are responsible for project success, meaning they must measure and report on project KPIs after projects have been launched. They are also responsible for making the case the project was a success to leadership. They are key stakeholders in ensuring projects are a success beyond just project completion.

Influence of Generation Z

Generation Z influences 93 percent of household purchases, according to a recent survey. While they may not yet have a lot of buying power, their influence is being felt. They have some distinct characteristics and expectations that will influence how brands market to them in the future.

While Generation Z may not yet have a lot of buying power, its influence is being felt.

  1. Members of Gen Z are comfortable sharing data as long as there is transparency in how the data will be used. They expect the data to drive a highly relevant and personalized experience.
  2. They have no tolerance for things that don’t work, and will easily switch or abandon a product or technology if not immediately satisfied. It was said, “they have the attention span of a goldfish.”
  3. They not only influence their household purchases, but those of their cohorts. If companies don’t meet their expectations immediately, they are quick to react and share that experience with those in their social sphere.
  4. Most importantly, they expect to participate in a company’s brand development and want to co-create products and experiences.

It will be interesting to see how brands react to these new expectations in the coming years.

Keeping Employees Happy

Employee satisfaction was a big topic of conversation in multiple NRF 2017 keynotes and sessions. Large and small brands talked about how they are focusing on employee satisfaction because a happy employee means happy customers. NRF’s RiseUp Foundation and several individual company initiatives are finding traditional and non-traditional ways to help people make retail a career choice.

The Human Movement

Trust, authenticity, transparency, and social consciousness all mentioned when discussing customer expectations.

Customers are making decisions not just based on the product, but also on what the company stands for, its service, and how it treats its environment. The “Human Movement” to hold companies corporately responsible goes beyond meeting Millennials’ expectations. Trust, authenticity, transparency, and social consciousness were all mentioned repeatedly when talking about meeting customers’ expectations. Customers across generations expect companies to act responsibly and to be transparent in how they conduct business from the supply chain and how they treat employees to how they act in the neighborhoods they occupy. People want transparency.

Putting Customers First

The customer experience and customer journeys got a lot of attention at NRF 2017 this year. More companies talked about its application across the entire organization, and not just in retail and marketing. Companies were looking at ways to put the customer at the heart of all operations, reorganizing the entire company to remove silos and unite in a way that meets the customers’ needs and reduces friction to meet those needs throughout the organization.

The Brand Devotion Index

The Brand Devotion Index is an interesting concept and way to measure how deep a brand connects with its customers and identifies opportunities to improve. The index identified three drivers of devotion: to be authentic, to be personal, and to be tribal. Companies that can capitalize on these concepts and develop experiences around these ideas, have the most brand-devoted customers. These are customers that would be devastated if the brand went away. I think many companies would aspire to have these types of customers.

BONUS from the Salesforce Marketing Essentials Sessions Post-NRF

Marketing, selling, and customer service have converged into a new, unified customer experience. Joel Book from Salesforce talked about how the evolution of customers, and their preferences for experiences over products, is revolutionizing how we interact and sell. Two-thirds of purchases are researched, and a lot of the research is done on companies’ websites. The website should be focused not on selling products, but educating customers, or selling through content. “Focus on helping, not hyping.” One of the best quotes of the week.

The BIG Show proved to be another great experience. The conference was packed with information, ideas, and insights to help all those that attended find ways to better service customers to drive revenue.

For additional NRF 2017 highlights, check out my tweets during the show @scucchiara.

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