Day 3 was - perhaps fittingly - book-ended by the one technology which everyone was talking about at NRF 2018: Artificial Intelligence.
IBM and Watson starred once again at NRF
There seemed to be a realisation this year, not evident in 2017, that in order to survive in the brutal retail environment in which every retailer now finds themselves, AI is not just a technology, it is a lifeline.
"We believe in AI" Tommy Hilfiger
And all the past messages of 'augmented' reality, 'real' reality and so forth finally found fertile ground at NRF.
There was a palpable sense that whereas before, AI was perceived as part opportunity part threat, now it is seen purely as opportunity. Able to support human effort and interaction rather than usurping it.
In an engaging session in the morning we heard from Salesforce and their take on AI; and whilst our new Dutch (stand up) friend pointed out that 3,250 words have 'AI' in them, perhaps 'Retail' is the most important and relevant word for this discussion.
During an analyst briefing we heard from NRF and IBM on the state of the nation.
"The challenge is twofold: to understand the non traditional competition & pick the right mix of technologies to invest in"
This has never been truer. And that neatly sums up the challenge for retailers today; just where do I invest my (extremely) limited funds?
For young startups the question is a simple one; but for the more established, traditional retailers it poses all kinds of difficult questions - many of which are currently unanswered.
And from IBM some interesting insights from their research of 15,000 Gen Z from around the world, complete with this somewhat startling fact:
"98% of Gen Z prefer to shop in store"
So, with that as the context, what were the top 2 trends which caught our attention on day 3 of NRF?
Probably the two most talked about at the Show: Artificial Intelligence closely followed by Stores. But we'll look at the stores first....
1. The Pivotal Role Of The Store
"There's nothing more important for a retailer than the store - it's pivotal to success. Pureplay days are numbered"
Andrew Busby, Retail Reflections
The first might be generally accepted now and this shone through at the Conference but the second? Are pureplay online only retailers really becoming extinct? Well as always, yes and no. The point being, stores are vital.
Stores are rapidly becoming pivotal, being at the junction between customer experience, supply chain, digital and physical.
They embody the brand and thus it follows that everything about the store must ooze brand appeal.
2. Artificial Intelligence Equals Retail
They say that you should leave the best till last and that's exactly what we've done.
NRF 2018 will come to be looked upon as a watershed moment in the history of retail; the moment when Artificial Intelligence came of age, the moment in history when people realised the awe inspiring potential of this technology.
"The narrative has shifted - Artificial Intelligence will provide the platform upon which retail can grow & thrive"
Andrew Busby, Retail Reflections
Compared to 2017, we didn't hear anyone discussing AI in itself; the fundamental change was that NRF 2018 saw the narrative shift - now AI was being discussed as an inclusive element of a retailers brand armoury.
We'll be providing some more Retail Reflections on NRF 2018, but for now, Watson - take a bow.
Retail Reflections are a retail analyst consultancy. Their Founder, Andrew Busby, is ranked one of the top retail Influencers globally and is an IBM Futurist.