As always, the NRF Conference & Exposition went by in a blur, but looking back on three jam-packed days of industry insight and networking, a few trends kept coming up again and again. Seamless retail, full mobilization of customers and employees, and item-level RFID tagging stood out as topics of interest among exhibitors and attendees. Following are a few thoughts about each of these trends that will help shape the direction of retail in the year ahead.
Seamless Retailing – Moving Beyond Omni-channel
The retail industry has by and large reached the “acceptance” stage in dealing with the death of the channel. Omni-channel means unifying your different channels into a single, coherent customer experience. But your customers no longer recognize the existence of channels. To the average modern consumer, clicking on an item on a mobile site is indistinguishable from picking it up on a store shelf. It’s all part of the same blended virtual/physical experience consumers have come to know in every other aspect of their lives and now expect when they shop.
There is no generally accepted term for this post-omni-channel retail model yet. The situation is reminiscent of the first decade of this century, which still does not really have a name. “Seamless retailing” was a phrase frequently heard at NRF, however, and it is an accurate description.
Mobile Goes Where the Customer (or Associate) Goes
Ubiquitous mobility, both for customer- and employee-facing applications, is a subset of the seamless retailing trend important enough to warrant its own category. Mobile devices have become the de facto platform for supporting how people live, work and shop, and retailers are responding to this paradigm shift. Most retailers now develop websites with either a “mobile first” or responsive design strategy that ensures an optimized mobile customer experience, and many also enhance the seamless aspect of their store environment with features such as mobile self-checkout and expanded product information available via mobile barcode or QR code scan.
In addition, retailers are increasingly recognizing the value of providing store employees with mobile devices