Thursday, February 1, 2018

Disruptive Technology Drove Retail Customer Engagement at NRF

Thomas John, Senior Director and Commerce Practice Lead
Innovation / Strategy

If you wish to remain relevant among the digitally savvy and native customers, you have to adopt a disruptive technology in your space. This was the message coming through loud and clear at the annual National Retail Federation (NRF) in New York earlier this month. With the ever-changing demographics of their customers, retailers have found themselves in the hot seat as they struggle to keep their customers engaged while also providing a contextually smart shopping experience. (In other words, how can disruptive technology help them remove friction from the buying process?

Here are some of my key takeaways from NRF 2018:

Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning

Artificial Intelligence (AI) was a recurring theme at the show. As retailers strive to change how they do business and engage customers, they are faced with the challenge of consuming large quantities of data from internal sales to external customer shopping behaviors. By using AI and Machine Learning, retailers can derive insights that may predict future outcomes for things like customer behavior.

Conversational Commerce

Fueled by the foundation of AI, consumers are becoming increasingly familiar with digital voice assistants found on devices such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc. At a session with the CEO of, Chris McCann said that Voice has become the interface of choice among their customers. They have launched a Watson-based AI chatbot on Facebook Messenger and skill on Amazon Echo (Alexa) to help shoppers make a purchase.

Augmented Reality (AR) / Virtual Reality (VR)

One of the most interesting (and exciting) bits of information from NRF was learning that consumers are getting more comfortable with the usage of AR and VR “try out” products prior to purchase. AR has enabled shoppers to understand that this technology will help envision the product usage within the context of their worlds, their physical spaces. Hayneedle, the home furnishing retailer most recently acquired by Walmart, utilizes AR to helps customers make educated purchases. VR is gaining just as much notoriety for retailers – from enabling shoppers to virtually try on shoes, to virtual classes that educate them on how to do a specific DIY Home Project.


Increased Efficiency in Customer Service

As mobile devices have become an inherent part of both our personal and business lives, retailers have adapted this device to help tether customer service reps to the immediate customer they’re serving. They are allowing the service reps to complete store-level operations such as stock availability, inbound shipments, etc. without ever leaving the sales floor. Target is one of the largest retailers that has adopted this model of operation. From the curbside pickup pilot they are running in Minneapolis-St.Paul, to placing an order to ship to the customer’s home, Target is adopting some of the disruptive technology that allows them to stay relevant with their customer base.

Optimism on the Horizon

One of my biggest takeaways from NRF was how optimistic the retailers felt about 2018. Boosted by the outstanding 2017 holiday season, they expected the trend to continue in 2018. The rumored “Demise of Retail”  is in most retailers’ rear view mirrors because these technologies will help the changing of the retail landscape over the next decade.