I’ve been to many NRFs and it’s always exciting. But the energy at this year’s event was positively electric.
After a 3-year hiatus, retailers from across the globe flocked to New York for NRF 2023 in search of ideas and inspiration for how to tackle some of the biggest questions facing retail and CPG right now. Post-COVID recovery, inflation and global recession were the big contextual pieces on everyone lips at Javits Convention Center in Midtown Manhattan.
But the feeling washing over the crowd was one of optimism and hunger for the future. Because it feels like we’re at the beginning of a new era for retail, where building resilience means more than just surviving – it means thriving.
Back to the ‘brilliant basics’ of retail
From sustainability and the Metaverse to supply chain disruption and the rise of AI – to say that lots has happened in the three years since the last NRF would be an understatement; these have been seismic developments that have rocked the industry to its core.
It’s led to an explosion of opportunities across retail and the creation of many new innovations, touchpoints and ways to market products and services for brands. Among those were exciting technological developments in-store, such as computer vision, multimedia fridges, and an array of sensors. Sophisticated warehouse automation is becoming a reality and reducing waste has moved center-stage in the push for greater sustainability. We’re also seeing the impact of data and predictive analytics across a range of retail activities. And AI is everywhere!
Somewhat paradoxically, however, the three themes that really stood out for me at this year’s event were a throwback to what I call the ‘brilliant basics’ of retail: customer experience, empowering the store associates, and supply chain.
The 3 key themes from NRF 2023
Here is a broad summary of how these three key themes were presented and discussed over the 3-day event:
- Customer experience. There is a unification taking place in retail: between trade and tech. Where once these elements seemed to work at odds with each other, we’re now seeing the human element of tech being integrated into trade. As customers return to brick-and-mortar stores, integrated, digitalized shopping experiences have emerged as the norm in those spaces. Digital technology has matured to the extent that it can now be used to enable established retailers to complement their years of experience with the insights that their customers expect in-store. The skillful combination of human experience with the use of data and AI can now produce real time insights for optimizing assortment, pricing and personalized promotions for retail items.
- The evolving role of store associates. This was a huge talking point at NRF 2023. There is a growing consensus on the need to make the experience of store associates more meaningful, to combat a reluctance to return to these crucial roles after the pandemic. By removing barriers to the use of technology in-store, retailers hope to make the day-to-day lives of store associates – who account for almost 80% of the retail workforce – not only more fulfilling, but also more appealing to a broader spectrum of society. Evolving in-store technologies such as smart shopping carts, smart electronic shelf labels and a single pane of glass to necessary information and tools can enable store associates to reduce friction in the shopping journey and create added business value in the form of increased customer satisfaction, conversion rates, and basket sizes.
- Sustainable, resilient supply chains. With the turbulence already caused by inflation and economic uncertainty, retailers cannot afford to have product excesses or shortages that lead to increased costs and lost revenue and thus hits to the bottom line. But with disrupted and increasingly unpredictable supply chains on one hand and fragmented data on the other, the ability to plan and react in an agile way is significantly hindered. So many of the retailers I met were asking how technology could help them solve their supply chain challenges. “How do I integrate the different data sources I have? How do I integrate demand signals to react quickly? How do I provide decision-makers in the business with the right data and insights at the right time?” Thankfully, at the Microsoft booth, we were able to answer many of these important questions.
Sharing our customers’ experiences at NRF 2023
It was refreshing to see so much activity and excitement at the Microsoft booth at NRF 2023 – all 13 of our meeting rooms were full for the entire three days. And it was great to have so many of the customers we serve at our booth, sharing their experiences, because it gave other retailers the opportunity to see the tangible impact of our approach in action.
At Microsoft, we are investing in evolving our industry-specific solutions portfolio dedicated to meeting the needs of retailers and CPG companies. In the case of AI, we are going all-in and have recently integrated OpenAI into our Bing search engine, Edge browser and our solutions portfolio.
We have an incredible partner ecosystem with deep expertise in Retail and Consumer Goods, and the ability to solve specific business problems and use cases for our customers. Start-ups are an essential part of that ecosystem driving innovation, especially in the fields of automation and AI.
The Microsoft Cloud for Retail speaks to our ambition to unify trade and tech. We are ready for the future. And we are ready to help our customers thrive.