So, another Big Show has come and gone. The annual trade show is the gathering for the retail tribe — and 35,000 industry professionals converged on the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York for this year’s version.
It passes in a blur. Omnichannel, AR, VR, robots, CX, DX, data, POS, ROI, millennials and GenZers. No one could see or hear it all and certainly no one could remember it all.
And so, a few enduring images. (And for those who want to learn a little something, BloomReach’s blog posts from NRF are available for reading and memorizing).
The event got off to a cold start with a something of a snow storm the night before the curtain went up on the Big Show. It started out looking pretty serious, but in the end it was more of a whimper. Nothing like the record snowfall of nearly 30 inches that blasted the city shortly after last year’s affair.
Things heated up pretty quickly in the exhibit halls (235,000 square feet worth), during presentations (more than 300 speakers) and during networking encounters (too many to count).
Like high school, NRF is a place to make an impression — and of course you want to make a good one. For many it’s an opportunity to fish for customers, employees, partners and jobs. There is always some angle to be working, which is not to say that everyone is on all the time. Sometimes it’s just nice to commiserate with members of your own tribe. But it’s always good to put you best foot forward, in the hopes that just the right person will take a shine to you.
It could be easy to feel small at times. The hall where the main keynote speeches were delivered was the size of an airplane hanger — or two, as Tristan Pollock of 500 Startups might have discovered. He took to the stage to talk to Lars Petersson and Christopher Gavigan about connecting with socially aware consumers.
The thing about the talks at NRF, and other trade shows, is that the talking never stops. There is the talk and then there is the talk after the talk. And sometimes the talk before the talk. You’ll find that some of the big acts, your Richard Bransons (Virgin), your Brian Krzaniches (Intel), they take to a big stage with a back way out. The rest of the speakers? They politely field questions, hear pleas for hiring someone or buying something and exchange business cards long after their talks are finished.
And, of course, it’s not that everyone wants to speak and run. There are opportunities in the crowd for those who address the crowd, which is one reason they’re on stage in the first place.
Not that anyone is counting, but you can draw some conclusions about the quality of the talk, or the place in the pecking order one holds, by the size of the crowd descending after the formal presentation.
But the talk is still the thing and style counts, particularly at a retail show, where honest-to-goodness fashionistas are known to roam. So you can imagine the pressure Jodie Fox must have felt. She’s a founder of Shoes of Prey, a site that allows customers to design their own shoes. A pair of flip flops wasn’t going to cut it for a shoe enthusiast in front thousands. No worries. She was fast on her feet, strolling out in some stunning gold boots, for a presentation on how the consumer experience is growing more important in retail.
And sometimes, on stage, in front of God and everybody, you just have to be honest. IKEA’s Lars Petersson gave a presentation with Christoper Gavigan, who’s company is called Honest, but it was Petersson who was most forthcoming. He acknowledged that building IKEA furniture can at times be a maddening experience. Maddening enough to cause stress among family members — think spouses especially. He talked about it in a humorous way. Nonetheless, good for him for addressing the elephant in the room during the keynote, a room, as we’ve established that would hold plenty of elephants.
There was plenty of talk about artificial intelligence and it’s ability to revolutionize retail by learning about customers at a scale that humans never could alone. And so, the model is human+machine.
Simbe CEO Brad Bogolea took to the stage to show off Tally, a robot that can help with keeping track of inventory.
Augmented reality and virtual reality were hot topics as well. And, of course, those technologies could help. But you have to wonder how many retailers have the capacity to start playing around with things like augmented and virtual reality. To answer our own question, we think some players are in a position to see if they can get a competitive edge, or a bigger competitive edge. And, of course, some are already using the tools.
And as fascinating as all the talk was, NRF felt at times like those days back in elementary school, when you thought you’d burst if you had to stay inside one more second. While most of the week was cloudy, if not winter cold , Monday presented Manhattan with a glorious sunny day, the kind of day you could walk for miles and marvel at the world’s loveliness. If you could actually get outside.
But even if you couldn’t get outside, there was plenty of opportunity for fun and exercise. DJ’s were scattered about the convention center spinning discs (figuratively) that seemed a little incongruous, but welcome, in a place where serious business was going on. Speaking of serious business, just as the BRRR wondered to itself, whether anyone would actually dance to DJ music at a trade show, two women bopped by cutting a mean rug. We had, of course, put our camera away, because that’s just how these things go. Use your imagination.
And then there comes a time when it is time to go. At some points during the three-day show it seems like it will never come. And yet in retrospect it sometimes seems the last day snuck up on you while you weren’t paying attention.
Until next time.
Photos by Mike Cassidy
Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s Storyteller. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.