NRF Show Reflects Changing Retail Landscape

Omni-channel, seamless customer experience, empowered consumers and mobile commerce were among the buzzwords at the National Retail Federation’s Annual Convention & EXPO in New York City. The show attracted a record 25,000 retail executives, suppliers and consultants, the most in its 101-year history. Reflecting the global nature of retail, there were some 5,500 international participants from 78 countries.

The mood of the show was positive and upbeat, with technology investments on the upswing as retailers explore new solutions to drive sales and gain market share in a fast-changing retail landscape marked by blurring of boundaries between online and offline channels. Whether considering mobility, cloud computing, analytics or workforce management, chains expect technology solutions to help them keep a near real-time relationship between their customers, associates and inventory.

“When considering these new rules of retailing, engagement is imperative,” said Eric Olson, VP educational strategies, NRF. “While many associates ‘engage’ with consumers, the term really applies to all aspects of retail, including how they engage shoppers, suppliers, staff, and consumers’ control over their purchases and retailer relationships.”

ONLINE: E-commerce and mobile commerce were spotlighted at several of the show’s educational sessions. Sucharita Mulpuru, VP and principal analyst, Forrester Research, and a leading expert on e-commerce and trends in the online shopping space, told attendees that convenience, free shipping and promotional deals are driving shoppers to the Web. She told retailers to expect online purchases to become a bigger piece of retail sales, particularly in the key fourth-quarter period, where they could soon represent as much as 20% of holiday sales,

With a boost from tablet devices, mobile shopping is also expected to accelerate. Forrester projects mobile commerce will jump from $6 billion in 2011 to $11 billion in 2012 and triple to $34 billion by 2016.

While those sales numbers are significant, an even bigger impact of mobile could come from functions that leverage the in-store experience, such as cameras, speakers, microphones and scanners, according to Mulpuru. Mobile devices will be able “to push the experience in ways we haven’t seen before,” she said

GLOBAL: Dr. Ira Kalish, leading retail economist and director of consumer business director for Deloitte Research (part of Deloitte Services LP in the United States) gave attendees an update on retailing from a global perspective. He called out the strong recent growth exhibited by retailers in Latin American, African and Middle Eastern retailers.

“China is not the panacea for retailing we once thought it was,” Dr. Kalish said. “India, Brazil, Sub-Saharan Africa and other emerging markets are where the growth will come from.”

For U.S. retailers, the economic environment is lukewarm. And with the lion’s share of income gains going to the affluent and the lion’s share of spending increases coming from the affluent, Dr. Kalish predicted that the bifurcation of retailing would continue.

“The middle will be a bad place to be,” he said.

mwilson@chainstoreage.com