Examining the Retail Realignment: Top 3 Takeaways from NRF 2021
NRF has always been a time for introspection, where industry leaders discuss how to provide a great retail experience to an evolving customer base. That has never been more evident than it was at NRF 2021: Chapter One. With COVID-19 posing a once-in-a-generation challenge, throwing an already turbulent industry into uncharted territory, much of the talk at this year’s NRF was how to remain resilient and agile in the face of extraordinary and difficult times.
“Forward Together” was the theme this year, a call for optimism in the face of these difficult times. And there certainly is cause for optimism. Moderna and Pfizer have released vaccines for the COVID-19 virus, with over 20 million doses administed in the US already. A $900 billion relief bill was passed late last year, with more relief being planned for future bills. And retail sales overall appear to be growing, even though some verticals are performing better than others. Retail wasn’t being run into the ground by COVID-19; instead, it’s being realigned to address the needs of these difficult times.
Here are our top three takeaways from NRF 2021: Chapter One:
1. Digital Transformation Will Differentiate the Leaders from the Followers
Transforming retail using innovative digital technology has been a high priority for years. With the changes brought about by the pandemic, digital transformation is now an essential part of any retailer’s business strategy. The demand for curbside pickup and in-store fulfillment is expected to remain high far after the pandemic is over. Frontline associates require flexible schedules to manage new child care and elder care responsibilities, a benefit that associates will certainly expect in the future. Managing these changes can only be accomplished with a robust digital transformation strategy.
At NRF, AutoZone discussed their journey towards digital transformation, talking not only about a $100M ROI, but also about how intelligent workforce management technology gave them the ability to quickly adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. With this technology, they were able to change their labor forecasting model to account for new tasks and activities at the store, improving the precision of their labor scheduling as well as employee morale and retention.
2. Existing Retail Trends are Accelerating, Not Changing
While it feels like much has changed as a result of the pandemic, what we’ve seen this year is a faster-paced version of what we’ve seen in years past. E-commerce is taking up a bigger share of all retail sales. Newer developments like dark stores and newer processes like curbside pickup are in higher demand than ever before. Customers expected convenient checkout and returns processes in years past, but now have a far lower tolerance for inefficiency and inconvenience.
At NRF, industry leaders explored how improving operations at the store helps frontline associates give customers an excellent retail experience. examined how using real-time communication and real-time task management is essential for empowering associates that are visible, connected, and optimally utilized. These technologies, used on associates’ mobile devices, ensure that the most impactful tasks can be prioritized, driving an immediate, best practice response to any unplanned issues that come up at your stores.
3. Agility is Key to Thriving in the New Normal
2020 was a year where dramatic changes happened in the blink of an eye. Sporting events shut down, states issued stay-at-home orders, and many were told to work from home indefinitely. Retailers had to adapt faster than ever before, figuring out how to control occupancy and manage social distancing, provide frontline associates with PPE, and communicate new safety information quickly and effectively.
This year at NRF, there were many technologies discussed as ways to enable an agile response to emerging trends and challenges. One key technology discussed was prescriptive analytics, which analyzes performance data, identifies opportunities for improvement, and provides best-practice prescriptive actions to the appropriate stakeholder. This helps enable a real-time response to inefficiencies uncovered at the store, whether it’s a loss prevention concern, ineffective staffing and labor utilization, or shifting demand for specific products at the store.
To learn more about how to streamline your store operations and prepare for this retail realignment, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org!