Bombogenesis at the 2018 NRF Big Show
The weather was not frigid at the 2018 NRF Big Show, but there was a winter cyclone under the roof of the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Coming off a year of booming sales and historic store closings, 35,000 retailers gathered to search for methods to survive and thrive in a time of permanent change.
Unlike recent years at the Big Show, the buzz generated in the vendor booths was matched by the swarms of retailers crowding the aisles. Both were looking for ways to respond to the strange bombogenesis, or whatever you want to call what happened to retail in 2017, which hit retailers like a cyclone of disruption.
Many retailers rode a strong macro-economic wave to success during the recent holiday season and the full year as a whole, but few enjoyed the mega-success racked up by Amazon, Walmart and a handful of others, who embraced and harnessed the perfect storm of disruption that affected everyone.
The strangest thing about the year was that while a retail boom was occurring and sales expanding close to five percent, a record number of retailers went bankrupt, closed stores in massive numbers, or moved one step closer to the brink.
In times like these, when bad things happen to retailers who should be joining in macro-economic success, it means tectonic plates are shifting and powerful forces are producing permanent change.
Best of What Was Overheard at NRF
No one can see it all and do it all at NRF with hundreds of sessions, exhibitors and events to attend. I kept busy over five days, zigzagging between the aisles of the convention center and streets of Manhattan. Here is the best of what I overheard during my hectic NRF travels.
- “In an Amazon Go store you walk in, go to the shelf, pick what you want, and walk out. Amazing. However, when I was 15, I used to do that all the time. It’s not that new.” – John Lawson, ColderICE Media
- “Amazon is the number one investor in research and development at $16 billion a year and Alphabet, parent of Google, spends nearly as much. However startups are investing more than $70 billion a year.” – Jon Nordmark, Iterate Studio
- “Using technology today, we now have the opportunity to deploy hyper personalization in a way that I haven’t seen since my grandfather took me shopping.” – Chris Shaw, Manhattan Associates
- “Transformation means you’re never done. Volatility is the new normal.” – Beth Comstock, former vice chair at GE
- “Malls are places where retail goes to die.”— John Lawson, ColderICE Media
- “That song (“The Times They Are a Changin’”) has the line ‘you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a changing.’ Bob Dylan wrote that song 50 years ago, and as far as I’m concerned, he could have written it yesterday.” – James Curleigh, Levi Straus & Co
- “Long live the store. The store is not dead.” – Tim Hood, SAP
- “We have ceded most of our entrepreneurism to Silicon Valley.” – Beth Comstock, former vice chair of GE
- “It’s not a single view of the customer you need, you need an elastic view.” – Chris Shaw, Manhattan Associates
- “Big data can be viewed as Big Brother and nobody wants that. What you want to do with your big data is turn it into Big Momma. Something positive, personal, emotional.” – John Lawson, ColderICE Media
Best of NRF Big Show Awards
After spending so much time at the Big Show, I couldn’t help but make a mental list of the best of what I saw. By best, I don’t mean most advanced or most innovative, so if you are looking for serious things of importance, please, read no further.
By "best" what I mean is stuff that was fun or brought a smile to my face for a few moments during many long, busy days of intense networking and information gathering at the Big Show. So, a drum roll, please. Here is my quirky Best of NRF Awards for 2018.
Best Chocolate – Salesforce (And you could make unlimited visits!)
Best Donuts – SuperSaturday Retail ROI (Crunchy peanut butter and jelly)
Best Shoe Sale & Fulfillment – Aptos and Cole Haan (Delivered right to your hotel within hours!)
Best Fake Food on Display – Digi (Fake food was a major trend at this year's NRF.)
Best Surprise Acquisition – Mi9 (Just Enough acquired days before the show.)
Best Umbrellas – IBM (Not sure why.)
Best Toys – Cisco (A treasure chest of fun.)
Best Mentalist – Manhattan (The amazing Bob Garner.)
Best Sneakers – Profitect (Comfort and style!)
Best Partner Village – SAP (Clever way to engage partners.)
Best Cookies – Relex (Chocolate covered Oreos!)
Best Table Location for Lunch – InfoVista (Like having a reserved table!)
Best Glamour Shot in Magic Mirror – Intel (Dave Weinand mugging.)
Best Music – Rock and Roll Retail (Retaillica)
Best Surprise – SuperSaturday (Honorary bobble head presented to me by RetailROI!)
These are just a few of the many "best of" highlights I encountered at the 2018 NRF Big Show. If you have any favorites you would like to add to the list, please send me a note.