2018's NRF Big Show leaves us with mixed feelings

2018 NRF (National Retail Federation) Big Show


WHEN: January 14-16, 2018
WHERE: Javits Center in New York City

OUR IMPRESSIONS, good (+) and less good (-):

(-) Consumers' Experiences (and stress levels)

This year's Big Show left Marquee's brand specialists with mixed feelings. While yards and yards of promotional signage and exhibitors alike touted better / optimized customer experience as a result of the vendor advancements exhibited, it's unclear the theme - Retail Tech: Transforming Retail Through Technology - will actually leave customers better off. 

Walking the exhibition floors, we politely asked vendors to explain how their technology would improve a customer's experience. Given the answers received, we concluded that many exhibitors present:

1)  Have perhaps never talked to actual customers or potential customers
2) Haven't fully (if at all) based their work on real customer need, or feedback

Sure all of these retail vendors' technologies are delivering a new and different customer experience ... but does the experience they're creating matter?

For many vendors, we're not so sure. And as one exhibitor dishearteningly put it, "It's called the National Retail Federation, not the National Customer Federation." Hmm.


Customer experience isn't a trend, a buzzword or a nice selling point. Experience - good or bad - is the reality of billions of consumers on a daily basis. How can you embrace your customers' experience and make it truly matter for them?

(+) Retailers

It is clear, however, that Retail Tech will benefit retailers battling for growth or even survival. Whew. Store-level shopping automation, payment & checkout systems, dynamic pricing and mobile-driven in-store personalization are some of the big themes in retail tech aimed at increasing speed & operational efficiencies and lowering costs while simultaneously driving increased traffic, conversions, margin and revenue (not to mention loads and loads of bigger and bigger data & analytics). So yea, retailers! (We care about retailers, too.)

(?) Automation in retail will continue to erode jobs

Where do you fall on the automation vs. jobs erosion discussion?

(+) Innovation Lab

NRF Handy Express.jpg

On a positive note, we were incredibly inspired by the level of innovation happening across America and around the globe, driven by a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs with mobile systems and a bevy of emerging technologies to tinker with and invent from. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and sustainability (sustainability more Citizenry than technology) were on full display at the show's buzzing Innovation Lab. Among the companies featured, Handy caught our attention for their customer-first spirit, addressing unmet consumer needs in the home cleaning & handyperson space such as vetted cleaners and handypersons and 60-second scheduling. Plus, they have a great vibe. Check them out!


Lori Yuhas