NRF 2019: What We Learned at Retail’s Biggest Trade Show

Lorraine Ryshin

January 22, 2019 | 5 min read

Last Updated: Jul 20, 2023

We recently wrapped up an amazing few days at the NRF (National Retail Federation) trade show, where we took part in panels and shared best practices with some of the biggest movers and shakers in the realm of UX and retail.

Hobnobbing along with Business France, its accompanying 19 French startups and the thousands of retailers, exhibitors and attendees at the conference, our team walked away with fascinating insights about the future of retail, and the intersection of technology and customer experience.

Trusting Data Over Intuition

A major trend for 2019 that has descended upon retailers — both the digital and brick-and-mortar kinds — is the incorporation of data as part of the customer acquisition strategy. In fact, telecommunications giant Comcast Business and its subsidiary Xfinity are partnering to implement data-based best practices into physical stores.

These best practices will aim to offer immersive customer experiences to brick-and-mortar customers, similar to how effective digital customer journeys work in UX. Comcast Business and its subsidiary posited that in order to lure in more customers to physical stores, they will need to design captivating experiences.

That’s where behavioral data comes into the strategy, as it would be impossible to construct these experiences without the relevant data to back them up. Additionally, this data can include consumer insights and employee engagement. All in all, this trend asserts that in order for businesses to survive in an omni-channel marketplace, gathering and leveraging data must be put at the forefront.

Streamlining the Buying Process

With shoppers less and less forgiving when it comes to digital convenience, brands are continuing to invest effort and resources in streamlining the buying process. This too can be applied online and in a brick-and-mortar store. Efficiency and speed are at the core of streamlining, so it is no surprise that retailers have taken notice of its importance to customers, instead of merely to its internal operations.

A streamlined purchase can be achieved by creating simpler cart actions, ones that require fewer steps to the checkout. Improving the overall UX so the customer journey can be easy and hurdle-free from start to finish also contributes to streamlining the buying process online. This translates to forming landing pages with easier paths to checkouts and clearer CTAs.

In a nutshell, identifying visitors’ goals and helping them achieve these goals pain-free is the cornerstone of a successful UX.

International Connectivity Via Payment/ Currency Optimizations

We also took note of the rise of the Latin American market as a key retail target for both brick-and-mortar and pure player businesses. As the Latin American market waxes, it brings with it the international market into the retail playing arena. This begs the question of how to make it internationally, especially when one of your business goals involved breaking into countries aside from the one in which your business is headquartered.

This will prompt businesses to cater to the international community with currency optimization, accept a wider range of cards and expand payment methods (think cryptocurrency or proprietary loyalty points as ways to pay).

In one of the panels, the worldwide fintech company Fexco proposed optimizing currency handling at checkouts. This way, retail offerings can be made easily accessible to users of different currencies.

Fexco provides financial services solutions such as currency conversions, multi-currency pricing, retail foreign exchanges among others. It primarily features merchant products and is seeking to provide data about payments. Thus, even the financial aspect of retail dutifully relies on data.


Contentsquare’s Lessons on the Rise of Experiential Retail

Our own Chief Strategy and Partnership Officer, Jean-Marc Bellaiche, led a speech on emerging trends within retail at NRF, as part of a panel called “The Rise of Experiential Retail.” The discussion identified 3 key trends in retail and what brands can do to stay ahead of the curve.

3 Key Trends in Retail:

1. The acceleration of the convergence between online and offline marketplaces. A digital platform and physical store are not separate entities anymore. Generation Z, which is now in the workforce and has entered the market to buy, are very much the target market within this convergence. Buying online is second nature to them and yet they still value the experience of going to a physical store.

Digitally native pure play brands like the makeup brand Glossier have understood this double-need, opening physical stores to enhance the interactive shopping experience and to give consumers a more first-hand experience with the products and services they seek out.

2. Consumers are demanding more from their in-store shopping experiences. They are looking for more sophisticated, tailored experiences, similar to the kind of personalized experience an online experience can provide. An ordinary, uninspired brick-and-mortar shopping experience will not be enough to draw customers into physical stores. Thus, businesses will have to get more creative in their selling approach at such stores.

3. There is a growing awareness on user data privacy, going beyond GDPR (General Data Protection), an EU regulation which stipulates data protection and privacy for its citizens and data subjects. While this is persistent in Europe, it is has entered the picture in the U.S., and there is increasing demand for data privacy to essentially make user data anonymous, e.g. in the case of major US-based social media brands like Facebook and Twitter.

2 Requirements for Retailers

1. Enrich your online experience to emulate that of a store’s. Stores are equipped with the space and personnel to provide good experiences for potential customers. A store assistant can respond to customer behavior in real time. Additionally, a store can provide personalized events — yoga, an actual breakfast at Tiffany’s, etc.

Create memorable experiences online requires the same observation and analysis of consumer behavior. Analytics help retailers understand what consumers are experiencing and this knowledge can be leveraged by teams to augment the site, and deliver satisfying, converting experiences. Furthermore, since consumers are communicating with a brand through every digital interaction, it’s a sound strategy to incorporate analytics to ease personalization.

Another way to enrich the experience is to apply “retailtainment” to both brick-and-mortar and digital, which author George Ritzer defines as the “use of ambience, emotion, sound and activity to get customers interested in the merchandise and in a mood to buy.”

2. Personalize without personal information. Using aggregated behavioral data instead of the data from a single individual maintains your customers’ privacy while helping brands achieve customization.

In Contentsquare for example, you can tap into the emotions and frustrations of site visitors from the standpoint of population segments, while remaining GDPR-compliant through encryptions. That way, you have the data on your visitors en masse, or at least in portions. You won’t be able to see what they enter in sensitive form fields due to the anonymization of certain information that they provide. With this data, you can then customize your content to appeal to different segments.

Closing Off

The panel closed of with some statistics that got jocular. When attendees were asked what percentage of them have personalized websites, their answers tallied to roughly 25%.

When asked how many of them have what might be defined as the ultimate personalization, a tattoo, the answer was rounded out to 36%.

Personalizing a website is clearly not as second nature to brands and their marketers as tattoos have become to a wide swath of the American population. Clearly, there’s work to be done on the website personalization front.

We’re looking forward to continuing the conversation and collecting even more insights at future conferences like the Adobe Summit and Shoptalk.