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Highlights from the 2024 NRF Big Show: AI, RMNs, Omni Solutions, LP, Inclusivity, and Integrated Technology

The 2024 Big Show Came Back with a Bang

Last week, McMillanDoolittle participated in the National Retail Federation (NRF) annual Big Show in New York City. With over 1,000 exhibitors and 40,000 attendees, the well-attended 2024 event did not disappoint with its cutting-edge technology, a strong desire to connect, valuable insights, and a Foodservice Innovation Zone exhibition.

In recent years, the pandemic and economic uncertainty prompted many retailers to postpone the implementation of next-gen technology due to competing priorities and cost concerns. This translated to a remarkable demonstration of retailers’ pent-up demand and a sense of urgency and optimism at this year’s show. Brands and retailers are acutely aware that to capture the loyalty of today’s budget-conscious shopper, investments in artificial intelligence, omnichannel transformation, and in-store tech cannot be further delayed.

The 6 Overarching Themes Driving the Industry Forward

  1. The Promise of Artificial Intelligence (AI): At the heart of the conference buzz was the prominence of AI. Many discussions revolved around retailers harnessing AI to elevate both operational efficiency and customer experiences. On the operational front, AI emerged as a potential cost-reducer, sales enhancer, and optimizer of back-office functions. For consumers, the commitment of AI was clear – a reimagined shopping journey marked by AI-assisted personalization and customer service.
  2. Complete Omnichannel Transformation: With many traditional retailers having well-built online presences (and DTC players having invested in stores, showrooms, and wholesale to expand their reach) retail has become a truly omnichannel business. As a result, the need on the part of retailers to be able to connect all channels to have seamless operations and customer experiences is vital. Many providers are now looking to offer solutions to enable seamless omnichannel businesses operations and experiences.
  3. Monetization of Physical Stores through Retail Media Networks (RMNs): In the wake of Amazon’s retail media success, many brands started eyeing the lucrative opportunity their digital real estate could offer. Today, retailers are figuring out that media opportunities are not limited to their digital properties, as physical stores offer largely untapped revenue opportunities, including elusive omnichannel proof points. The challenge moving forward for solution providers is to provide one-to-one personalized ad delivery and purchase attribution.
    digital media screens

    Image Source: McMillanDoolittle. From left to right: VusionGroup Engage’s In-Store Retail Media; Trollee’s AI-Driven Smart Retail Solution

  4. Protecting the Store and Associates: Retailers’ most valued assets are their stores and their people. However, in recent years the industry has battled an increase in retail theft and organized retail crime, leading to financial losses and negatively impacting the health, safety, and job security of the store associates and local communities. As a result, providers are responding to a notable uptick in demand for loss prevention solutions aimed to mitigate shrink and aid retailers in the protection and prioritization of their people.
  5. Integration of Retailers’ A La Carte Solutions: As the retail landscape transitions towards omnichannel strategies, there is a growing need for new platforms that bring together fragmented data streams across various existing retail solutions, forging an intuitive and streamlined ecosystem and user experience. Many exhibitors commented on their ability to integrate with incumbent technology or provide comprehensive solutions for retailers that address and seamlessly integrate multiple technology needs.
  6. Proliferation of Inclusive Technology: Retailers are now paying overdue attention to inclusivity issues in retail, and many of this year’s solutions were aimed at fostering an inclusive user experience that removes barriers across diverse customer needs. Two noteworthy examples include drive-thru technology that adapts the order screen to the customer’s language and processes voice orders in native languages with real-time translation. Additionally, with the growth of digital kiosk ordering, Samsung introduced an option for visually impaired customers to navigate through a headphone assisted option as an alternative ordering method.
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Image Source: McMillanDoolittle. Creative Realities (CRI’s) Digital Signage Solutions and Experiences

Applying this Year’s Takeaways to Your Business Plan

  • There’s no doubt that AI will be at the forefront of strategic considerations for 2024. The key will be for retailers and brands to take stock of all relevant AI applications in their business, prioritize investments in those areas, and create a development roadmap for the next 3-5 years.
  • New in-store technologies will be crucial to developing a winning omnichannel retail experience while aggregator platforms will allow different solutions and data streams to work together for the retailer. Our team at McMillanDoolittle has deep expertise in creating winning, personalized omnichannel strategies that integrate emerging technology as well as consulting support on organization design to strategically address today’s industry realities.
  • Retail media networks provide an attractive new revenue opportunity for industry players and allow for greater optimization of physical locations. We expect smaller retailers to increasingly rely on third party firms to aggregate retail media development costs. Our team can help advise retailers in facing the emergent challenges of selecting and implementing new revenue-generating solutions while protecting consumers’ privacy.
  • Advanced loss prevention solutions can critically mitigate shrink and help protect store associates. Our team assists affected retailers in assessing and selecting solutions that move beyond basic self-checkout monitoring and manual video footage review by protecting the entirety of the store and enabling real-time action – responding to issues before they escalate to crises.
  • As the physical and digital worlds continue to merge, retailers are encouraged to redefine what it means for their company to be accessible for all consumers and to invest in inclusive solutions and technology that address diverse needs. We can help your business understand key touchpoints for greater inclusivity in your customer and associate journeys.

Inspired by learnings from this year’s Big Show and want to know more?  We invite you to contact us to discuss your solutions strategies and roadmap for 2024 and beyond.  We welcome the opportunity to discuss our work with retailers and solutions providers in strategic planning, new concept and customer experience development, and global retail innovation. To stay up to date on our latest retail insights, follow us on LinkedIn.

Maddie and Nico

Maddie McBride is a creative and data-driven researcher who is passionate about keeping customers at the heart of innovation. With a strong foundation in both quantitative and qualitative research, Maddie has honed her skills through a series of design research and consulting experiences. She has produced deliverables for various companies, spanning industries such as technology, insurance, and retail. Nico Fernandez is a retail and business enthusiast who passionately works to optimize enterprise performance. He leverages his own direct experience in retail and his academic background in business economics to deliver value on both strategic and operational fronts. He enjoys helping clients strike the balance between art and science when running their businesses and looks to impart meaningful best practices to the businesses he works with.

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