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Key Takeaways From NRF 2020: Retail’s Big Show

Managing Editor
Rethink Retail

January 24, 2020

The whole world of retail was a stage the other week as thought leaders from top brands and tech companies gathered in New York City to attend the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show.

Held in the massive 1.8 million-square-foot Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, NRF’s annual event drew in large crowds from around the globe, all waiting to hear, and see, the latest and greatest solutions, technologies and learnings from the world’s most innovative makers.

With big-name exhibitors like NEC demonstrating its creepy, yet convenient, facial payment software, to Indeed’s edible selfie booth, NRF 2020 did not lack in ingenuity or imagination.

As solution providers wowed attendees with their latest and greatest innovations, brand thought leaders were delivering the scoop on the economic factors, consumer trends and technological advances that will make major lasting impacts on the global retail landscape.

And one idea that seemed to be driving much of the dialog at this year’s event was digitization and the value human connection will have as retailers and consumers alike become more tech-dependent both in-store and in the home.

On Monday, Jan. 13 Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson sat down with Stephanie Mehta, editor in chief of Fast Company, to discuss the vital role human connection will play in a society moving increasingly toward near-total automation.

As human beings, we were meant to interact with one another. It’s how we get energy. It’s how we get support when we’re dealing with adversity. It’s how we share joy and successes in our lives. I think one of the common themes going forward is finding ways to create human connection. Human interaction. The world needs that, Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks

Sustainability was also top of mind this year as myriad sessions highlighted the notion that the majority of today’s shoppers are motivated by values beyond price, and why sustainability is increasingly seen as a competitive advantage.

Those learnings were revealed, in part, on Sunday, Jan. 12 by moderator Lug Niazi, IBM Global Managing Director, during “Trust in retail: Why sustainability, accountability and traceability are critical to brand belonging.”

The session, also attended by Adam Cairns, Vice president of Sales, Inventory & Operations Planning at Walmart US, and Marissa Pagnani McGowan, Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at PVH Corp, highlighted elemental findings from an IBM 2020 consumer report, including how retailers can increase their earnings through authentic social, ethical and sustainable goals.

IBM found that 7 in 10 global consumers are willing to pay up to a 35% increased premium for trust and transparency, a trend that is pervasive across all generations of consumers.

We have always known doing good is good for the planet but now we know doing good is good for business, Marissa Pagnani McGowan, Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at PVH Corp.

Also on Sunday’s agenda was “Grassroots Mission: The Journey to Sustainability” where Jennifer Walsh, founder of Beauty Bar and Walk with Walsh Media, was joined by Heather Deeth, Manager of Ethical Buying with Lush Cosmetics North America, and Jennifer Gootman, VP of Social Innovation and VP of Corporate Social Responsibility for West Elm, to discuss the elemental role sustainability plays in their brand image.

At Lush, we’re creating a cosmetics revolution to save the planet, Deeth said. I actually think we need a revolution … We all need to participate.

Other key takeaways from the 2020 event were the changing role of physical stores to become more brand-representative and experience-driven, and how social media is increasingly becoming a key part of shoppers’ pre and post-purchase journeys.

We make a concerted effort to make it easier to shop, and to make that transition from inspiration to maybe pushing a checkout button as easy as possible,

Amy Eschliman, Senior Vice President for Client Engagement at Sephora, said during a Sunday panel on driving commerce through social content.

When the sun set on the final day of NRF 2020, attendees parted with a new vision of the future: Retail is already in the process of becoming more digitized, more global and more competitive—and with that comes a mighty learning on the power of impact.

As consumers become more connected, more global and more selective with their dollar, they, too, become the makers as they reshape the world by raising the bar on the ethical and sustainable standards they expect businesses to adhere to. And those retailers—the ones willing and able to listen and connect—are the ones that will win the decade.


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