NRF Retail’s Big Show 2019 recap: the digital transformation continues


Ara Gopal

Global Solutions Senior Director

What retail apocalypse? Brick-and-mortar retail is thriving, powered by cutting-edge technological innovations that transform the customer experience. This transformation, along with the impact of advanced analytics and the importance of purpose-driven authenticity, were central themes of the National Retail Foundation’s Big Show 2019.

Over 38,000 attendees from 99 countries attended this exciting event, and gained exposure to different perspectives and heard from industry leaders and visionaries. The Anaplan team was on the ground at NRF and had the opportunity to meet with a number of retail leaders to hear their priorities and challenges.

Here are my three key takeaways from this year’s conference:

1) Technology brings new life to brick-and-mortar retail

From cashier-less stores to kiosks and vending machines, technology is redefining what a store is, where a store should be, and what a shopping experience can be. This focus on transforming the shopping experience is likely to drive significant investment from brick-and-mortar players, and digital native brands will also look to establish a physical presence (like the Amazon Go grocery store). And in this new generation of retail stores, robotics and automation initiatives focus on store employee training and productivity. With most stores also acting as fulfilment centers, several concepts displayed on the expo floor showed how to improve operational efficiency (shelf stocking, picking/packaging and order fulfilment) through new inventory, merchandising, and point-of-sale solutions. Big tech and big retail are partnering closer than ever, as evidenced by announcements from Microsoft & Kroger and Microsoft & Walgreens.

2) Advanced analytics (artificial intelligence and machine learning) graduate from buzzwords to actual applications

Although there has been no shortage of hype and buzz around magical all-knowing algorithms, there was plentiful evidence to suggest that retailers are now much more clear-eyed about finding practical applications that add business value. Multiple sessions on this topic and live conversations honed in on the need to take an evolutionary approach to adopting AI and ML capabilities. There is also widespread recognition that algorithms tuned to address a specific type of problem (like assortment planning or demand sensing) are likely to be adopted faster and easier than generic platforms or capabilities. Wise use of the massive amounts of data available to make better business decisions will certainly be a top priority for retailers this year, especially in light of the added operational complexity arising from digital innovations like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

3) Purpose and authenticity make the difference

Brands are realizing that a purpose-driven vision and a commitment to authentically living that vision are key to attracting and retaining the modern consumer. Brands such as Dick’s, Chobani, and Levi’s shared how they engage with their customers and communities to make tough decisions and stay authentic to their values. Sustainability, community support, employee welfare—whatever the purpose that drives a company’s strategy, it is authenticity that will set the brand apart in the eyes of the consumer.

Finally, it was great connecting with customers and prospects at the Anaplan booth. Every interaction provided greater insight into the planning and operational challenges that retailers continue to face.

For more about how retailers are working through the planning challenges of the modern market, download our State of Connected Planning: Retail Perspective paper, featuring insights from our first-ever global survey on planning.

Here’s to an exciting 2019—it’s sure to be another year of rapid changes and innovation in retail!

State of Connected Planning: Retail Perspective

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