Reflections on NRF 2013

Now that a full week has gone by since the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York City, I’ve finally caught up and found the time to put together a post on what I took away from the show. Here are my thoughts (in no particular order):

  • Changing consumer behaviors (i.e., the use of mobile devices, primarily smartphones, for shopping) are causing retailers to adjust their marketing strategies. The days of marketing to consumers via one channel or enabling them to transact in one channel are long gone, replaced by omnichannel organizations that are flexible enough to engage consumers in the way they want (e.g., responding to a customer service question via Twitter), facilitate transactions in multiple channels (e.g., online marketplaces, pop-up shops, Facebook stores) and fulfill those orders via multiple channels (e.g., buy online, pick up in-store; fulfilling online orders from brick-and-mortar stores).
  • Brick-and-mortar stores are still relevant … and profitable. It’s been well documented that retail e-commerce sales continue to grow, but the value of a physical storefront wasn’t lost on this gathering of retailers. A keynote presentation from Warby Parker’s Co-Founder Neil Blumenthal focused on the formerly online-only eyewear retailer’s decision to open brick-and-mortar locations. Not only do Warby Parker’s stores and office showrooms provide a “learning laboratory” for the brand, they’re an amazing sales channel, too, Blumenthal said. In fact, Warby Parker’s store and showrooms generated $2.5 million in sales last year, registering higher sales per square foot than jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co.
  • Next-day shipping is old news; same-day shipping is the new standard. Consumers want instant gratification when they make online purchases. Making them wait any longer than a day for their orders to arrive is no longer acceptable in their eyes., as is the case with many retail trends, is at the forefront of the same-day shipping movement. The online retailer is setting up distribution centers across the country to fulfill and ship its orders as quickly as possible. Now retailers have to compete with Amazon on not only price, but speed of delivery as well. Cross-channel retailers are addressing this immediacy trend by implementing shop online, pick up in-store programs as well as fulfilling online orders from the closest brick-and-mortar location.
  • Selling internationally, both online and via brick-and-mortar stores, is a potential growth opportunity for American retailers. That said, there are several factors you must consider before investing the time and money into an international expansion: will your product line resonate internationally; how does seasonality affect your product selection; do you open company-owned stores or have franchisees; among others.
  • The Javits Center needs more food choices (or more people working the available options). Standing in line an hour-and-a-half for a slice of pizza just doesn’t seem worth it. And I’m not interested in eating lunch at 10:30 a.m. to avoid the lines.
  • Establishing an employee-centric culture within your organization is a wise move. Kip Tindell, chairman and CEO of The Container Store, spoke of his company’s efforts to make its employees the cornerstone of its business. If you treat the people who work for you well, they in turn will treat your customers well, Tindell theorized.
  • One of my favorite quotes from the conference comes from Warby Parker’s Blumenthal: Becoming lean [as a company] doesn’t work if your definition of lean is fast and cheap. 2013 will be about deliberate and thoughtful. Ask the next question.

All in all it was another successful and educational NRF Big Show (despite some minor internet connection problems in the press room, but we’ll leave that topic for another day). I’m already looking forward to next year.

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