Retail experience at core of the Big Apple: my latest feature article in Canadian Retailer magazine
January in the retail calendar means three things for retailers.
First, for many merchants, operators and marketers, time to take a much-deserved vacation after the triathlon (Black Friday, Christmas, Boxing Day) that is Holiday. Second, late nights and the bring-on the double-double work for the finance department closing the quarter/year and retail month.
But for about 40,000 retailers and industry players from 99 countries it means the annual pilgrimage to the National Retail Federation’s “Big Show” in New York. I’ve probably been to the NRF trade show conference well over a dozen times, and it’s scale and scope continues to both impress and intimidate.
While content in the past had not always been a strong suit of the show, this year featured a range of speakers that helped give context and direction to the hundreds of vendors presenting on the trade-show floor. Headline front-line retailer interviews including Lowe’s Companies Marvin Ellison, Best Buy’s Hubert Joly, and Chip Berg from Levi Strauss & Co, plus thought leadership from the likes of the iconoclastic NYU’s Scott Galloway and Recode’s Kara Swisher.
By its pedigree a retail technology show, the show has becomes in some ways a zeitgeist for retail trends. At one time perhaps the technology & digital itself were seen as the future, a stand-alone channel - too much in isolation. What was clear in 2019 is that the intersection of customers, technology solutions and retail interaction with associates is a more likely path to success.
While in New York I had the pleasure of putting together with our sponsors Retail Council of Canada’s guided tour of Manhattan retail. Each year we try to both find unique concepts not yet found north of the border, and stores that embody retail trends.
Two stores particularly captured the integration of technology and people. The innovative B8ta, located in the Macy’s on 34th street demonstrated how consumers could experience products on their own and get support with the click of the iPad from a “B8ta Tester”, the shop’s helpful associates. Secondly, MedMen, a bespoke cannabis store on 5th Avenue, really captured this synthesis of product knowledge, technology, enthusiasm and engagement on the shop floor.
From the show floor to the shop floor, New York presented a vision and direction for a unified customer experience. Sure there was plenty of self-serve and behind the scenes wizardry on offer, but overall a solid reminder that there isn’t a digital channel or a store channel, it’s a retail channel.