NRF Review – Digital Very Much Involves People And Stores

Senior retailers and leading IT professionals gathered for the annual retail technology jamboree that is Retail’s Big Show, organised by the National Retail Federation (NRF), in New York City in search of the latest solutions that can help them navigate the industry’s tough challenges.

Kate Ancketill

Amid all the technology – including lots of interesting solutions incorporating facial recognition and Artificial Intelligence (AI) – there were plenty of solutions being showcased and presentations delivered around some old school aspects of retail. We’re talking about people and physical stores.

A keynote presentation from Doug McMillon, CEO of Wal-Mart, highlighted how the company had increased wages and training in order to get the workforce on side and to encourage them to embrace the business’s digital transformation. This is absolutely essential because the shop floor roles increasingly involve technology.

River Island, Rent The Runway, Tommy Hilfiger, and New Balance were among the many retailers at NRF highlighting how they have been using kiosks and issuing tablets to their employees to enable them to better serve the customer. These tablets are increasingly smart – giving real-time visibility of inventory positions, accessing shoppers’ purchase histories, and delivering tailored product recommendations via AI-powered tools.

This level of investment going into people and stores suggests the personal service delivered in physical outlets is a long way from being a thing of the past. This is certainly the view of Levi’s as its president of the brand James Curleigh revealed in another keynote how the fashion business had just signed-up for a new 25,000 sq ft flagship on Times Square.

His other strategic imperative involves the much-vaunted initiative of the digital age: collaboration. At NRF he was talking about ‘drops’ at specific stores of collaborative products including Michael Jordan/Levi’s denim sneakers; unannounced store visits by the likes of Chance The Rapper and other musicians; the creation of a Google-powered jacket; and a personalised range of t-shirts produced in-store with Diane von Furstenberg.

Heritage brand Levi’s is cleverly gaining a new relevance by its association with mainly young and cool brands in very personal initiatives that are aimed at garnering a new fan base. These people have been weaned on digital and the personal experience and integral to this are stores and shop floor employees.