3 Predictions for Retail from NRF 2021

February 17, 2021

After 2020 taught us all to get out of the prediction business, you’ll be relieved to hear that the resounding focus of this year’s virtual “Big Show” from NRF was that physical retail will rebound. It will just look different. In an insightful “Big Ideas” session, Keith Mercier from Microsoft characterized COVID-19 as “the new Chief Innovation Officer for retailers.” The very nature of the retail store has changed before our eyes. Back of house and front of house have collided, with stores now simultaneously customer experience centers, click-and-collect locations, online fulfillment warehouses, e-commerce return locations, and brand awareness drivers.

After listening in on a library of video presentations from the conference discussing the challenges and possibilities that will transform retail, we’ve walked away with three takeaways. Read on to discover what industry executives had to say about what 2021 has in store for retail and brands.

Brick-and-mortar will remain critical to omnichannel retailers’ strategies

Consumers have been conditioned by the convenience of e-commerce – which means the physical store must be as agile to provide gratification to the consumer as online. Backend systems and operations will have to become efficient and super-fast to meet impatient consumer demands.

Data from the supply chain, online interactions, sales transactions, and brick-and-mortar locations can take a retail organization to the next level when tapped for insights. 

The role of the store associate is changing

Store associates are tasked with far more than what anyone could have conceived a year ago. They are virtual personal shoppers, brand ambassadors, customer service, safety, and order fulfillment experts. Retailers need to provide the right empowerment and training tools to become experts in engaging the consumer and driving sales under these new expectations.

Using this moment to reinvent what it means to work in retail will make brands stronger.

Technologies bridging the e-tail – retail gap

Marvin Ellison, President and CEO of Lowe’s, said it best, “The most effective technology is technology that nobody sees.” The most innovative and crucial new ideas aren’t necessarily flashy – they work quietly behind the scenes to support your frontline employees and amplify what’s already great about retail.

AI, BYOD (bring your own device), virtual shopping, e-commerce integrations – there are numerous technologies in retailers’ tool kits now. But the focus needs to be on creating a human-obsessed digital ecosystem. People will increasingly seek out brands whose technology helps them with their busy life in the new contact-less era. NRF’s Big Show celebrated the resilience that the industry as a whole has shown this past year.

For retailers, the key insights and innovations from the rearview mirror must bring the best of digital and brick-and-mortar experiences together to keep pace with consumers’ evolved shopping habits. The winners will be those who craft more resonant connections between consumers and brands across channels.