2020 NRF Tomorrow’s Retail: At the Store or Comfortably Sitting at Home, Using Other Tools?


Just like every month of January, New York has held the most significant event in the Retail world. Aton could not miss this appointment with a view to confirming some routes already taken and collecting new cues for the future.

In the wonderful Jacob Javits Center setting, overlooking the Hudson River, the biggest exhibition space in the city has hosted over 800 exhibitors from 99 countries, attracting more than 40,000 participants, about 18,000 of whom from the Retail world.

But what is it that, once again, has magnetized the attention of such a numerous audience? What has the 2020 NRF told us about the future?

The profound retail market transformation, started just a few years ago and now arriving after a stagnation period which has lasted for even 20 years in some cases, is fastly moving forward.

The first element that this year has most struck is the further evolution of multi/omnichannels towards a new concept:

  • Unified Commerce: customer’s involvement dynamics, which used to go through the most common digital tools in use to purchase quickly and comfortably, have now evolved into the interception of a “potential purchase desire” generated by the sensations and emotions which images seen on any digital platform provoke (social ones like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest will become the base consumers’ desires will originate from). Therefore a cake admired on Pinterest becomes the switch leading us towards the store where that product can be found, contextually informing us that physically purchasing at the reference store will provide us with a further promotion, valid only on that occasion. Digital tools in use are simultaneously consolidated (self-shopping, click&collect, etc.), increasingly connected to purchaser-store interaction.

The prospect will therefore be to multiply the number of stores, while contextually reducing their dimensions thanks to:

  • Robotized Systems: real robots will allow performing operations such as stock breakage controls on the racks and product correct position on the basis of planimetries, as well as label price checks, therefore freeing operators from such activities and allowing them to devote their time to relationship activities providing a greater added value to consumers: suggestions on product/colour combinations or advice on what to cook will become the new dialogue modes inside the store.

All this will require the systematic and exponential development of process control systems at the store: information exchange among ERP, Back Office, Front End or mobile applications in the store will have to be not just punctual, precise and absolute, but also real-time:

  • Analytics, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence: these three terms will increasingly go hand in hand, therefore creating real control systems on what happens at the point of sale. Splendid and multi-coloured dashboards will allow retailers to have real-time access to what takes place in every store, dynamically selecting the most interesting KPI’s at that moment; the generation of a correction or acceleration task will be immediate and it will be contextually sent to the store, which will have to react within a predefined time and provide a closure feedback afterwards.

All this provides us with a very vivid picture of the future store:

  • In-Store Mobility: for any kind and size of store, the message is most clear: lead the customer into the store to offer him everything he cannot find in digital platforms, allowing him to enjoy an increasingly customized experience, where the focus will be on the operator, who will become more efficient and propositional towards customers by using the mobile tools at his disposal.

At the moment it is not possible to state if all this will be feasible or whether we will have to wait, but I am sure many visitors will have felt a bit like Captain Picard onboard his USS Enterprise: “if Spock were here, he’d say just an illogical and irrational human being would accept a mission like this.. It’ll be amusing!!”


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