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The NRF’s Big Show in photos: BloomReach Relevance Report

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.

NRF attendees spring through the Javits center

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).

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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.

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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).

Attendees getting shoes shined at NRF's Big Show

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.

Tristan Pollock introducing a presentation by Lars Petersson of IKEA and Christopher Gavigan of the Honest Co.

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.
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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 Bransonsmarkbishop (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.

Jodie Fox's fetching gold boots on stage at NRF

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.

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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.

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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.Simbe CEO Brad Bogolea on stage with the company's Tally Robot during a talk by Intel's Brian Kzranich 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.

The Empire State Building on a gorgeous sun-splashed day in Manhattan

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.

DJs playing tunes at 2017 NRF Big Show

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.

luggage lined up at NRF on the last day of the show

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.

Crowd streaming out of the Javits center

Until next time.

Photos by Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s Storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

 

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BloomReach’s reliability delivers happy holidays to online retailers

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After a month of looking at what e-commerce data says about consumers, retailers and the economy in general, it’s time to turn our gaze inward.

And honestly, the numbers are good. BloomReach at times during the recent holiday season handled record levels of traffic, while delivering superior service to our retail customers during their most crucial time of the year.

Retailers, of course, expect superior service. And every company promising to increase e-commerce revenue by providing a memorable and relevant experience for retailers’ customers, strives to deliver flawlessly.

Inside BloomReach

    One in an occasional series of stories that look at the people and projects that make BloomReach tick.

But since we put the performance factor out there and gave ourselves a little hat tip in the process, we thought it fair to look back at just how BloomReach performed during the holiday season.

Naturally, data flowing to BloomReach’s servers was substantially above normal, given that the holiday season is the busiest for our retail customers. No matter the season, that wealth of data gives BloomReach tremendous insight into what is happening on the web, particularly on commerce sites, on any given day.

Holiday traffic is a big test for everyone

But the holiday season is particularly interesting and particularly challenging. By one of the most telling measures of activity on our customers’ sites, traffic to BloomReach servers peaked at 300 percent of the traffic on a typical day. That mega-peak was Cyber Monday, not surprisingly, but traffic remained strong throughout the holiday season, as you would imagine.

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And throughout the dramatic holiday traffic spikes, BloomReach’s digital infrastructure was up and running with no outages or downtime — with typical (or better) response times.

BloomReach provides tools to help drive organic search traffic, to personalize digital sites, to increase conversions through improved site search and navigation and to provide merchandisers with the insights they need to best tell the right story to their customers.

And during the holiday season, BloomReach was able to deliver those services with reliability that couldn’t have been better.

It’s a huge deal for digital retailers, who generally rank latency — or speed — and uptime — or reliability — as their top requirements when partnering with technology companies.

BloomReach has a unique view into the web

BloomReach’s position as the company that more than a hundred retailers, including some of the largest online sellers, rely on to improve their customers’ discovery and search experience, gives us a unique view into the workings of the web.

The company’s machine-learning technology relies on data from 75 million unique consumers a month. In all, BloomReach captures data from more than 20 percent of all U.S. e-commerce.

And based on all that data, BloomReach is able to get a firm grasp on the trajectory of e-commerce. Company data shows that server calls related to BloomReach’s Commerce Search product increased 2.7 times on Cyber Monday compared to a more typical Monday in September. Again, BloomReach handled the surge without incident, which is key, given that Commerce Search powers site search and personalization on retail customers’ sites.

The holiday traffic spikes were global, by the way, with traffic to our European customers up more than four times at the peak during the long Thanksgiving weekend. In fact, the data shows that Black Friday is a thing outside the United States, given that the peak in Europe hit on the day after Thanksgiving.

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Reliability is a key consideration for any retailer choosing a partner to optimize the customer experience on their websites. Downtime means lost sales, frustrated consumers and the kind of poor customer experience that might mean that frustrated customer is not coming back.

A number of major retailers put their faith in BloomReach after head-to-head tests pitting BloomReach against multiple competitors. They included retail giants like Toys R Us and Staples, the largest office supply retailer online and a business that relies heavily on site search. Those retailers’ faith was rewarded over the holiday season, as BloomReach delivered service without fail.

Preparation is the key to a successful holiday shopping season

BloomReach’s peak performance, in the face of peak traffic, was no accident, of course.  We think about preparing for high holiday traffic all year. In fact, given BloomReach’s diverse set of retail customers, we face regular spikes on days like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Singles Day and during the back to school season, for instance.

We torture test our systems in the run-up to the holiday season. We run drills, like first responders exploring ways to avoid the worst. We provision our cloud-based system with the ability to scale up in advance of monster traffic. As a result, BloomReach delivered its service to customers during the holiday season with the same speed it does during quieter times.

It’s nice, of course, to be able to look back at a successful holiday season. But if the season just past taught us anything, it’s the importance of looking forward. With the growth of e-commerce, the next surge will be here sooner than we think; and it will be bigger than the last.

Photo by Mike Cassidy.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.