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Technology’s finest was on display at NRF’s 2018 Retail’s Big Show, but the buzz was about customer experience




As I worked my way down the jam-packed aisles of New York’s Javitz Center navigating the behemoth show that was NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, one thing became clear. Last year’s concerns about the future of brick-and-mortar retail and whether physical stores would survive the “retail apocalypse” have given way to an excited conversation about how best to merge the digital/physical worlds to deliver the ultimate customer experience.

Held Jan. 14-16, the show had a distinct technology focus, drawing nearly 40,000 attendees to New York to kick off the new year with a look at the latest innovations and trends. Though past events have seen many of these developments geared toward improving operations efficiencies or optimizing supply chains, this year’s show put the customer front and center.

“The way customers want to live their lives today brings the store and e-commerce experiences together,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told attendees at the NRF Foundation Gala. “I think ‘big picture’ what everybody here who is a retailer knows is true is [that] this is a people business. The way customers feel when they leave your store or your website or your app determines how fast they’re going to come back.”

As someone who studies the influence of store environments on the shopping experience, this is music to my ears. Whether a retailer is employing machine learning to curate the perfect product selection online for an individual consumer, or using facial recognition technology in store to greet the loyal shopper as she crosses the threshold, in the end, the most important component is the emotional connection the brand has made with that customer.

Engaging customers using data gathered by smart tools embedded in lighting or fixtures to better understand their needs, wants and behaviors holds much promise, as does mobile technology that empowers associates on the sales floor to assist shoppers more effectively.

If NRF 2018 is any indication, this will be an exciting year for both the retailer and the consumer.




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