NRF 2017, the Three Musketeers of Technology


Kevin P. Gabbay

July 6, 2017 | 3 min read

NRF 2017 has come and gone and it’s a good opportunity to take a moment and reflect on the extraordinary technological capabilities that will soon become a part of our everyday lives, the challenges that we face and what the future holds for technology within the retail industry.

Upon entering the Jacob Javits Center in New York last Sunday one might be a little overwhelmed.  With 33,000 attendees, upwards of 500 exhibitors and over 300 speakers, there was a whole lot to take in. But one thing was obvious, that “Technology, People and Process” are the Three Musketeers of the future and all must work hand in hand to generate success.

The Technology and The Challenge

There are periods in history where certain technological breakthroughs have changed the world and we are certainly on the cusp of another such time in history.  The invention of the automobile, airplanes, the internet and smartphones all changed our lives and our culture.  Automation will soon do the same.

At NRF, I could see so many ways that automation will affect our lives. Merging digital with traditional commerce is the challenge that many companies are facing.  And of course, there will be repercussions to automation and the main casualty will be the workforce.

For example, there is a company which is in the process of transforming how we use dressing rooms at clothing stores. They have created an automated system where you can go in a dressing room and scan the item you want to try on, and while in the dressing room you can (with the touch of your finger) change the color, the size and even purchase the item right then and there.

Of course, that will all but ensure that some folks will likely need to find a new position soon. And therein lies the challenge of this technology, there are always casualties.  But in every instance in our history, we have adapted and progressed because of these technological breakthroughs and automation will be no different.  It’s a technology that we will all embrace soon enough and one that will make all our lives so much easier in the long run.

A few years back, CVS (the drugstore conglomerate) and other retailers started to place self-service check out registers at their stores.  I remember there was a backlash and so many were against it.  But recent studies have shown that today people would rather use the self-check out than go to a regular register manned by a human being.

I heard a story on the news a few weeks ago, that AMC Theatres conducted a study that showed millennials would rather wait in line to use the self-service kiosk at the movies than to not stand in line at all and buy their ticket from the attendant. My how times have changed, right?

So, this is where “People and Process” enter the equation. We must let people and the process dictate how technology advances and how we as a culture must adapt. After all, without the people there will be no process in the technology.

At the NRF a new initiative was announced where the NRF Foundation and retailers are working together to help educate the workforce of the future, to give them the necessary tools and skill sets they need to find new opportunities, so that they can adjust to the ever-changing landscape of the retail industry and technology.  Because as people adjust to the technological breakthroughs that are upon us, there must be adjustments made by all.

Time to Rise Up

“Innovation in retail is really everybody’s opportunity.”-Mark Parker, Chairman, President and CEO Nike, Inc.

Mark is 100% right!  Whenever there is innovation there is opportunity and automation and the other technological breakthroughs upon us are no different.  For every position that is lost because of innovation a new one or two may be created.  The key is to make sure that the workforce of the future has the skills and tools necessary to be able to adapt and adjust innovations in all facets of our everyday lives.

“Today’s jobs require new skills.”-Bill Brand, HSN.

Considering Bill’s insight, the NRF Foundation, in cooperation with retailers all around the world, has introduced an initiative called “Rise Up.”  Rise Up is a training and credentialing program that will help people acquire the skills and training they need to secure the jobs of the future in retail and give them the skills they need to advance in the retail sector.

The future of the retail industry is very closely knit to advancements in technology and the future is now upon us.  And the Three Musketeers (Technology, People and Process) must make sure they all work together as this is truly a time in history when it’s “All for One and One for All.”