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NRF 2019: Dawn of Experiential Shopping

Exuberance and a superabundance of innovative technologies were hallmarks of the just completed 2019 NRF Big Show. Many of the technologies on the show floor fit under the umbrella of digital transformation while many others point to a new age of experiential stores that are data-driven and highly automated.

Many of the exciting technologies on display are evolutionary and will flow into stores in ways that are largely invisible to shoppers. However, many others will become highly visible, experiential features that will interact with shoppers in new and engaging ways.

Despite racing around the show at coffee-fueled speed, there were too many things to do and too little time to do them. As a result, I missed many things I wished I could have seen. The good news is I plan to catch up on what I missed by reading the “Best of NRF 2019: Top 10 Takeaways” story by the editors of RIS.

For those looking for additional insight, be sure to attend the RIS webinar on January 24 at 2:00 pm ET to get my take on the hottest trends seen and heard at the NRF Big Show as well as those from Nikki Baird of Aptos. Click here to find out more.

The 2019 NRF Big Show was big, big, big! As usual, frenzied herds of attendees funneled into sessions and booths that were often too crowded to accommodate them. But this year’s NRF took bigness to a new level. Exhibitor booths were injected with steroids and growth hormone, aisles were clogged with attendees, innovative exhibitors were jam packed, traditional exhibitors were jam packed, and the lower level of the Javits Center, usually an outpost for the forlorn and lonely, was a hotbed of engaging technology and crowded activity.

Best of What Was Overhead

Here are my picks for "smart quote" takeaways from the 2019 NRF Big Show, i.e. the best of what was overheard.

  • "In July the economic expansion will go into the record books as the longest in history."Janet Yellen, former  chair of Federal Reserve System
  • "I think it’s misleading to say you should strive for a work life balance. You should be authentic all day long." – Hubert Joly, CEO, Best Buy
  • "Technology is going to disrupt the future of work, perhaps sooner than we thought. We are exploring everything from AI to VR, but we see no substitute to our stores and our employees. We focus on building talent and personal service.” – Brian Cornell, board chairman and CEO, Target
  • “Successful innovators don’t care about innovation. They care about solving problems.” – Albert Vita, director, in-store experience and visual merchandising, The Home Depot
  • “We started on our e-commerce journey well before Amazon bought Whole Foods. We assumed at some point Amazon was going to do something in the physical world. We are driven by what we assume the competition is going to do, not what they have already done.” – Rodney McMullen, CEO, Kroger
  • “Your cell phone is not a phone. It is NASA. It is a supercomputer with a phone attached.” Steve Sammartino, futurist and keynote speaker at RetailROI SuperSaturday
  • “Artificial Intelligence (AI)I is a bit like playing blackjack and counting cards to get an edge to beat the dealer. However, AI is so powerful that you are not just playing one hand at the table, it’s as if you are playing all the hands at the table at the same time.” – Mark Burstein, president of sales and development and chief strategy officer, NGC Sofware
  • "Ashley Stewart is going to win on kindness and math. Our strength is fellowship and self-esteem." – James Rhee, CEO of Ashley Stewart
  •  “We will raise about $400,000 today, which brings it to a total of about $4 million over the last 10 years. Because of that RetailROI was able to fund 188 projects in 24 countries helping 226,000 children by building 19 schools or community buildings, 21 computer labs, and helping to rescue 1,200 women and children from trafficking.” – Greg Buzek, founder and president of the IHL Group at RetailROI, SuperSaturday
  •  “Today, you must be focused on your customer. You must be able to invest in the present business and tomorrow. You must be willing to reinvest and be willing to invest in yourselves. We will never be able to be successful unless we disrupt ourselves.” – Brian Cornell, board chairman and CEO, Target
  • "IQ is way overrated. EQ (emotional quotient) is really what’s needed to create a human organization that works well together.  You study economics, finance and business, but at the end of the day the relationship employees have with the organization is very strong and emotional." Hubert Joly, CEO, Best Buy
  • "I think in oxymorons. So, I think like a venture capital guy, but I don’t look for startups. I find my opportunities for next to nothing and turn them around.” – James Rhee, CEO of Ashley Stewart
  • "We have to think outside of sales per square foot or comp store sales. We think about metrics the way the marketing funnel thinks about metrics. We use a combination of cameras, sensors and staff to measure impressions, touches of products, and demonstrations per store." – Vibhu Norby, co-founder and CEO, B8TA
  • "Story has the point of view of a magazine. We curate the products. We think of a store as a medium. The story could be about wellness and we will show yoga clothes and technology to gauge your health. We bring in partners to tell the story. Collaboration for us is not just about products, it also includes tech companies and insurance companies. We ask 'do they add authority and authenticity to the products' and 'what is their strategic value?'" – Rachel Shechtman, founder of Story
  • "We had the best sales in more than a decade. What's changed in the last 10 years is that at that time digital was still a rounding error. We used to run e-commerce as a separate business. We had locations from coast to coast, but we used to think of them as stores. They are so much more and are our single biggest asset. Three out of every four digital orders were fulfilled by stores last year and stores accounted for the majority of the growth during the holiday season." – Brian Cornell, board chairman and CEO, Target
  • "Assets don't have the same value they used to. Your inventory is not an asset, it is a liability. Traditional accounting doesn't gauge time as a factor. Your chief asset is time. I gauge everything on time and cash." – James Rhee, CEO of Ashley Stewart
  • “There will not be stores someday. Google and Amazon are the Borg and resistance is futile. They have built moat after moat after moat, a data moat, a delivery moat, a customer service moat and you could go on and on. Retail is about to change so drastically. My kids literally do not shop in stores. To succeed in retail you have to be experiential and have items you can’t find anywhere else. You will see fewer and fewer stores and the ones you see will be much more experiential and event driven based on a data relationship with your customers.” – Kara Swisher, editor at large, Recode
  • "The best investment we made was in our team and they are driving the sales and engagement success we are enjoying. Human connections matter. It is part of our experience and what differentiates our brand, this is why we are sitting here today saying we are having the best year in a decade." – Brian Cornell, board chairman and CEO, Target
  • "After the Parkland Shooting Dick’s made a decision to not sell firearms to anyone under 21 and not sell combat style weapons. With so many shootings occurring it was clear the system was not working. When I watched the kids and the parents after the Parkland shooting I never cried so much. Then on Monday I came into the office and made the decision. Was it a tough decision? No it was an easy decision. Now did it have a negative impact on our sales. Yes, it did. But we have continued to grow and have discussed it with the board and we all asked ourselves if we had to do it all over again, would we? We said, yes, we would." – Edward Stack, Chairman and CEO, Dick’s Sporting Goods
  • "You have to do things outside the four corners of your brand. You cannot be afraid to take on the issues of the day. We recently took a stand against the gun epidemic in the country, one of the biggest social issues of the day. I have a 10 year-old daughter and she practices lock-down drills. To my daughter, and to many kids and teenagers today, this is the biggest issue in their lives. My employees expect it of me, but beyond that I think CEOs of major corporations and companies have a responsibility to give back. And if you do, consumers will reward you for that." – Chip Berg, president and CEO, Levi’s

Perhaps it was big news that Snoop Dog made a celebrity appearance at the NRF Foundation gala dinner on Sunday night, but for most attendees there was much bigger news just about everywhere at the Big Show.

For me, the three biggest takeways were: the success of RetailROI’s Super Saturday event in raising nearly $400 thousand for vulnerable children, the rebirth of Rock & Roll Underground (formerly Rock & Roll Retail), and being witness to the people and technologies that are driving an epic, once-in-a lifetime transformation of the retail industry. 

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