NRF 2019 Recap: “Intelligent Tech” Seeing is Believing – Or Is It?

By Kerry Young on Jan 18, 2019

As anticipated, the 2019 NRF Convention was full of insightful sessions and a wonderful Expo experience.  Let’s dive into a few top takeaways from Retail’s BIG Show.

Takeaways from NRF 2019

At NRF 2019, when it comes to “intelligent tech,” seeing is believing. Or is it?

And, “omnichannel” has left the building.

Attendees saw pervasive messaging that can be grouped under a heading of intelligent tech on the show floor this year.  Technology vendors and their customers are all looking to harness “scientific retailing” to gain a competitive edge, while trying to figure out how embracing this type of model affects the role of customers, associates, and executives.

With today’s incredible processing speeds, data stores, and ease of use, “consumable science” is tantalizingly close to being within reach of decision-makers.  But decision-makers seem less comfortable with this new wave in comparison to “omnichannel” in terms of both the messaging and models.  Why is that?

This time around, people see the power of intelligent tech (artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc.) and they believe it will disrupt current retail models, but they don’t yet believe they have a practical, scalable answer that will keep up with the best of the best. This is different than their previous confidence to solve “online vs. offline” challenges in omnichannel.

 What We Didn’t Hear

Before diving deeper into the challenges of science messaging and models in retail, let’s start with we didn’t hear at the show – these are themes that we expected based on previous predictions:

  • Stories of omnichannel excellence that demonstrate customer sat with the model
  • Stores passionately supporting their digital twins at headquarters
  • eCommerce teams embracing the “it’s just commerce” idea
  • Malls are back! They are now great infotainment and experience centers!
  • We don’t have to give our customers two-day shipping because of our compelling offers
  • We are recruiting scientists who can solve retail problems
  • We solved the “last mile” and can go head-to-head with Amazon on home delivery

NRF 2019 Buzz

Now, let’s move on to topics that we did hear this year. Here’s the buzz from NRF:

  • The customer is first
  • It is all about customer experience
  • Managing to customer lifetime value is really important to our brand
  • I wish I could count on keeping a customer for a lifetime since competitors (and Amazon) are always just a click away
  • It is hard to do endless aisle well (but we all want to do it)
  • It is really difficult to find scientists, especially ones who know retail
  • IBM’s fade to black on ecommerce software is a really significant inflection point
  • It is getting really hard to staff stores with the right people at the right times
  • We have suddenly discovered we’ve been deploying artificial intelligence all along (recommendation engines, labor scheduling, pricing optimization, etc.) – what a relief to know that we are not falling behind the AI curve!
  • Hollywood media tech and Computer-Generated Imagery has morphed into AI-based, personalized advertising of product offers to consumers
  • The age of “retail-tainment” is here as retailers borrow from media & entertainment companies that need social media savvy to shape customer experiences

What You May Have Missed

Lastly, here’s what attendees may have missed that is important and in context of the science:

  • While there are really cool algorithms emerging, you need good data to activate
  • If you have terrible data, it is really hard to get the value out of your intelligent tech investments
  • Web and mobile commerce are publicly exposing the many flaws in digital data repositories, only some of which can be solved by “fuzzy” logic and clean-up by AI
  • Whereas the cool kids want to play in AI and new ecommerce platforms to address legacy platforms, areas that are less familiar to business people are now hot topics: Master Data Management, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and Data Governance/Quality
  • AI & Machine Learning, Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality do not operate in silos. Artificial intelligence and machine learning need continuous feedback across various types of data stores within and across enterprises, trading partners, and even customers.  Augmented and virtual reality depend on image, dimensional, and even pixel level orchestration from many sources.  This makes timely accessibility to the right data stores as important as the algorithms.
  • RPA will improve the efficiency and quality of processes by taking out the errors from people managing those tasks while providing improved data quality that will lead to enhanced insights and decision-making
  • Experience management and experiential moments do not just relate to customer experiences, they extend to company associates, trading partners, executives and more. Master Experience Management (MxM), which comprises multi-domain Master Data Management for products, customers, assets, materials, location, etc., along with Digital Asset Management, acknowledges the need to extend experience management broadly.
  • Omnichannel commerce will return in a big way but probably with a name that speaks to networks and collaboration that overcomes the commerce challenges not yet met

As we close out NRF 2019, I want to thank all who joined EnterWorks at the show, including Coresight Research CEO Deborah Weinswig, RAC Director Steven Keith Platt, Professor Munther Dahleh of MIT IDSS, Ryff CEO Roy Taylor, and Forrester VP Sucharita Kodali.  Here’s to an exciting year ahead for retail innovation.

About the author

Kerry Young

Kerry Young joined EnterWorks in 2006 when Ennovative, Inc., the multi-channel publishing software company he co-founded, was acquired by EnterWorks. He directs EnterWorks’ operations and leads EnterWorks’ professional services and consulting organization, ensuring effective customer implementations and ongoing success. Mr. Young brings more than 25 years of technology and business management experience to EnterWorks, having served as CTO for a subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company, and earlier as VP, Information Technology for Marshall Industries, a $1.7 billion industrial electronics distributor. He previously managed information systems for a subsidiary of McDonnell Douglas Corporation. Mr. Young holds a B.S. degree in Computer Science from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and an M.B.A. from California State University Fullerton.

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