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In case you missed it: My top takeaways from NRF 2019

Another year, another exciting week of retail innovation for us at NRF 2019!

I had some fascinating discussions at this year’s show—both at Microsoft events and out on the floor with retailers, customers and industry experts. The National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show was the perfect place to explore some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in retail right now—from creating amazing customer experiences to finding new ways to stand out in a super competitive time.

Of course, not everyone could carve three days out of their schedule to make it to New York for the convention this time around. In case you missed it, I captured some key takeaways from our own experts and leaders across the industry.

Here’s a quick rundown of my favorite sessions and exhibits from the Big Show, plus a shopping list of lessons for savvy retailers in 2019 and beyond. Also, make sure to look at our infographic about 5 ways to optimize retail operations with AI.

Innovative startups and shop floors

Many retailers and tech companies at NRF are on the bleeding edge of retail innovation. With guided tours of innovative spaces hosted by major retailers, and a zone for attendees to get hands-on with technology from more than 30 startups, there were lot of ways to see intelligent retail in action. These were some of my must-see exhibits:

Although the event is now over, I think we’ll be hearing from these startups a lot more in the near future.

Power in the pack at the Girls’ Lounge

Diversity and inclusivity were hot topics at this year’s show. And at the Girls’ Lounge there were super-compelling discussions with some of the industry’s leading women, covering everything from how to negotiate to developing a personal brand to supporting equality.

I was fortunate to be part of a panel moderated by NRF SVP Ellen Davis and other big names in the industry—including J. Crew’s CIO Michelle Garvey, Jill Braff of Brit + Co and Susan Feldman from In the Groove—to talk about why mentorship is so important for women in retail, and why you need your own personal board of directors that you can reach out to when you need mentorship.

My colleague Alysa Taylor, Corporate VP for Business Applications and Global Industry at Microsoft, joined a panel alongside Girls’ Lounge founder Shelley Zallis, CEO & Co Founder of Brandless Tina Sharkey and managing partner at memBrain LLC Liz Heller to talk about the importance of having a personal brand. Alysa shed light on how your ‘Brand’ maybe external but it starts with the internal work of developing your personal philosophy.

Our big ideas: Delivering on the promise of intelligent retail

During my session on how to deliver on the promises of digital retail, I talked about some of my key takeaways from this holiday season. For instance:

  • Retail is alive and well. Retailers saw a 5.1% increase in sales over the holidays, racking up $850 billion in sales. And in China, Singles Day delivered four times the sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined – 90% of which were on mobile.
  • When retailers make it easier for shoppers to be inspired online and come into the store, cash registers will ring. Case and point: Buy Online, Pickup In Store (BOPIS) was up 47% over the holidays.
  • Shopping is being integrated into life. We’re not just making shopping lists and going to the store during shop hours anymore. We’re shopping in micro-moments all day long, and the ‘magic hours’ this holiday season were often between 7pm and 10pm – after dinner and kids are in bed.

Here are also some key things every retailer should be focused on now:

  • Knowing your customers, and creating exciting customer-first experiences
  • Empowering your employees, who are the ambassadors for your brand, to delight your customers
  • Delivering an intelligent supply chain so you can get the right product to the right customer at the right time
  • Reimagining retail and creating new customer-obsessed ways of doing business

I was joined by Mary Ellen Adcock, Group VP of Retail Operations for Kroger, and Jeff Wile, Starbucks’ SVP for Infrastructure and Enablement. We’ve worked with Kroger and Starbucks on amazing digital innovation projects over the past few years, so it was great to chat about their journeys to becoming truly intelligent retail.  Here were a few of the key learnings:

  • Retailers need to take advantage of new technologies to stay competitive.
  • The right technology not only puts the customer at the heart of your business and delivers consistently great experiences, but reduces costs and increases competitive advantage.

Later in the show, Microsoft CMO Chris Capossela hosted his own discussion on how we walk the talk when it comes to our company mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, and how Microsoft has become a mission-driven brand.   Here were the things that stood out the most to me from his session and how he talked about Microsoft’s culture:

  1. We should always strive to embrace a “growth mindset”. That is to say, we should always be learning, whether it be from our successes or our failures.
  2. We should build a culture that is customer-obsessed, diverse, as well as inclusive. Having a strong foundation of an inclusive and diverse workforce that allows employees to be their most authentic selves will allow us to better focus on how to make our customers successful.
  3. Make a difference. A lot of technology brands these days are focused on being “cool”, but we are focused on being helpful.

Those were my key takeaways from the event. I look forward to hearing what you thought about NRF.

If you want to learn more about intelligent retail, visit Microsoft’s Retail site or download our infographic about 5 ways to optimize retail operations with AI.