2015-16-January-big-show

The retail revolution is here. It’s always on, omnichannel, social, mobile and highly personalized. It’s informed by data — big data, small data, fast data, machine data.

The times, they are a changing. If you’re a retailer or a brand, the question is "Will you?"

You’d better. Because the consumer already has.

That was the general sentiment at the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) BIG Show in New York City this week, where we heard speaker after speaker talk about data being the critical ingredient in creating customer experiences the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

Oh, Ho, Ho It's Magic

It’s not only about providing the same warm fuzzies online as we do in the store (and vice versa). It’s also making sure that the right offer is in your hands or on the customer’s screen at the exact right time. And when the shopper walks up to the cash register or is about to click buy, the exact right product (color/size/model/make) better be in stock or the consumer will go somewhere else.

If you get this right, it’s magic. Maybe even better than Amazon.

Consider that brick and mortar Macy’s, which was founded in 1858, may become the seventh largest online retailer this year, bypassing Netflix. It's onto something.

“We have to keep moving and evolving with the customer. As she shops differently, we can’t make the same decisions we made in the past,” said RB Harrison, Chief Omnichannel Officer of Macy’s Inc.

But you must keep the core the same, said James “JC” Curleigh. He’s the president of the Levi’s Brand, which he calls the oldest startup in San Francisco. He says Levi 501’s are “the uniform of progress since 1873,” implying that they’ve been worn by both yesterday’s gold miners and today’s data scientists.

 For him, selling product is all about creating experiences and fans. He used rock and roll as an example in his presentation. “Think about the most memorable moment of a record,” he said. “The radio, the album, the record store, the concert. It’s the concert where the fans are created,” he said. And though it’s debatable as to whether digital experiences can replace rock concerts in that regard, digital and social media can go a very long way in creating a fandom and keeping it alive.

So it’s no wonder that words we associate with technology, like data, analytics, content, omnichannel, social, mobile, customer experience, beacons and the Internet of Things — you get the picture — were flying off people’s lips at retail’s Big Show this week.

We tapped into the community to find out what the buzz was all about and what kind of information the crowd was looking to take home from the show.

Enough with Cash Registers, Short Aisles, Defeatist Attitudes

Christian Conway, director of retail solutions at AirWatch by VMware, talked to customers about how big data and mobile were influencing and changing customer, manager and employee experiences. They were interested in beacons, endless aisles, digital signage, self-service enablement, mobile point of sale (mPOS) and digitized employee training materials.

And he wasn’t talking only about early adopters, even the laggards seem to have been interested in sneaking a peek behind digital doors.

”I spoke with several traditional brick and mortar stores who are considering adopting mPOS technologies,” he said. “While this is something we’ve seen frequently among newer retailers and pop-up stores, it will be interesting to see more traditional retailers make the switch away from cash registers.”

Other BIG conference attendees Conway encountered wanted to know how they might use mobile to get better efficiencies throughout their supply chain and in what ways can they can better equip associates to accommodate customers.

“We're starting to see brick and mortar retailers shift from a defeatist attitude to online retailers and really embracing technology,” he said. “For example, some retailers are leveraging their physical stores as distribution centers to enhance their supply chain model.”

Not Every Touchpoint Has to Lead to a Sale

“Praise the Lord,” that was our response when Alan Lipson, the global industry marketing manager for retail at SAS, said, “Smart retailers see that not every touch needs to lead to a sale. Sometimes the customer’s goals are more related to utility or convenience, and using data to help them accomplish those goals will increase customer loyalty in the long run."

We’re going to literally make note of it and hand it to the next salesperson or pop-up window that stalks us.

“The value is in the visit, not just the sale,” insisted Lipson. And if anyone has the analytics to prove it, it’s SAS.

It’s also worth noting that SAS (and Macy’s) say that when you think about omnichannel, you should start with the customer, not the channel.

Customers Attention = Competitive Advantage

We’ve all heard it said that data is like gold, but the reality is, unless you’re applying it right, it’s just data.

That’s why Lisa Arthur, Chief Marketing Officer Teradata Applications, and her team spent time on the conference floor talking about how data– captured and analyzed across the business - is absolutely any retailer’s most valuable asset, after customers, that is.

Data-driven retailing, as Arthur explains it, is the most powerful means of building brand rapport with consumers. “Today’s marketers deal in a multi-channel world, and data flows through those channels like a river. Analytics help marketers make sense of the data, so today marketers are genuinely able to glean individualized insights about their customers. These customers, who choose to engage in myriad ways with the brands they know and trust, help top retailers achieve competitive advantage simply by directing their preferred retailers to engage them in specific ways, online and offline.”

It’s a Data Game

Though no one told us they had a data driven headache, when you think about all of the data generating, gathering and analytical solutions on display on the exhibit floor of the BIG Show, it’s kind of mind-boggling.

Unless you’re talking to Jingcong Zhao, an analyst relations specialist who works at Tableau, that is. Her company helps people tell stories about data and to visualize it in pictures. Here’s how she breaks it down:

“Just walking around the exhibit floor, I saw a lot of retail technology companies that are either in the business of generating data (i.e. tracking technology in stores, software that integrates and pulls data from POS systems, electronic shelf labels, etc.) or analyzing data generated by customers and transactions (retail-specific product recommendation engines and analytics platforms).

Analytics are then leveraged, according to Zhao, for inventory planning, supply chain management, in-store product placement, to understand shelf compliance, customer segmentation, how to create omnichannel retail experiences, understanding customer paths online and offline.

Got it? Though Zhao didn’t tell us that it’s easier to make data driven decisions with a viz vs. an Excel spread sheet, it is. Check out this one about retail store openings.

Innovation Divorced from Operations

While it’s no secret that today’s consumers expect personalized shopping experiences, creating them is a whole other deal.

“Innovation can be slow and challenging for large retailers,” said Rebecca Bucnis, a global business architect from MongoDB that went to the BIG Show. Using data effectively and -- more importantly -- easily were two key themes at the event, she told us, adding that driving innovation outside of operations is key, yet it is challenging to step-away from day to day operations.

“Many retailers have decided to create dedicated ‘Innovations centers’ where focused experts can trial and error a variety of technologies to drive more personalized real-time applications enabling more streamlined user experiences.”

Smart.