The NRF Retail’s Big Show in New York is among the most important retail industry events of the year. With about 36,500 in attendance from around the world, Retail’s Big Show is where retailers and vendors alike convene to stay atop the trends and innovations that will keep them competitive in an increasingly fast-changing industry.

Among the trendier topics this year was the rise of AI. Some argued that AI will transform the way retail is conducted — especially in the e-commerce space — while others pointed out that much of what gets described in the “AI” hype is actually machine learning technology that has been in use for years. RELEX’s own Johanna Småros argued the latter earlier this month in our “Best Practices for Managing Grocery Retail Supply Chains” guide, while also pointing out that machine learning algorithms like weather forecasting are still constantly being innovated. There’s still a great deal of potential within retail tech that needs to be looked into.

The subject of supply chain transformation is taking up more and more space in the discourse as retailers recognize the impact of supply chain efficiency on a healthy bottom line. From supply chain to merchandizing, speakers were conscious of the harmful effects of silos in their retail planning. Data visibility and transparency are key concerns, with retailers seeking solutions that allow users across their supply chains to access and make use of accurate data streams.

Big Data continues to grow and evolve in importance. An interesting new perspective in fashion retail came from Vineet Gautam, CEO of Bestseller India, who argued that brick and mortar stores are ignoring their greatest advantage over online: that the physical store still has the ability to cater to a local demographic, whereas the online store must cater to all. To make aggressive use of this advantage, he has been successfully using data analytics to produce merchandizing decisions at the store-level rather than relying on the top-down approach more traditionally seen in fashion retail. The results, he says, are significant — especially in large, heterogeneous markets like India where there can be great variety in shopper patterns from state to state, city to city, and even store to store.

This focus on customer needs was persistent across industries and especially prominent among grocers and other food retailers. For years, grocers have been adapting to the growing consumer demand for fresh food, ready-made meals and meal kits. As grocers’ recipes and ingredient lists grow, many find themselves in a liminal space where they must operate both as a traditional grocer and as a restaurant — a “groce-teraunt,” as one panelist called it. The immediate consequence of this is that the supply chain becomes more complex, but the smart grocer will have an eye on future consequences as well. As the line between grocery and restaurant blurs, some see increased government regulation in the future. There’s an opportunity to invest in solutions that optimize the supply chain and provide transparency now so that grocers are prepared to meet regulation challenges as they arise.

It’s clear that this year, as in years past, technology innovation was the central topic both in presentations and in casual conversation. This trend will likely continue, as retailers are aware they cannot meet consumer demand and maintain profitability without making thoughtful investments in their long-term IT strategies.

Diya Chaudhuri

Diya Chaudhuri

Marketing Manager, PhD

Diya is RELEX’s Marketing Manager, US. She has a PhD from Georgia State University and is an experienced writer and marketing professional.

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