What VARs Should Take Away From Retail's BIG Show and EXPO

Bernadette Wilson

By Bernadette Wilson

NRF 2014

Retail’s BIG Show and EXPO is filled with insights for the IT Channel, with candid perspectives on technology needs and the role technology plays — or should play — in retail. The event, hosted by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and billed as the world's leading retail event, is being held Jan. 12-15 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City, preceded by a Super Saturday event on Jan. 11.  

In Super Saturday’s opening keynote, Jeff Roster, research VP of global industry for Gartner, said retail innovation will be enabled by four factors: cloud, social, mobile, and Big Data. Regarding where retailers will be spending their IT dollars, he commented, “Cross-channel, omni-channel is all about agility. You will be spending more on agility in 2014. Congratulations.”

In his keynote on Jan. 12, Foot Locker chairman and CEO Ken Hicks pointed out where technology can help: “The biggest challenge we have is the need for more interconnectivity within the company. Retailers were siloed and now need to be more connected.” Hicks added, “We need to arm our associates with more information than the customer has. They need scan guns to see what inventory is in-store and available elsewhere. Tablets will help them look up information online. These will help the associates merchandise better. They can tell the customer which T-shirt is designed to go with the LeBron James shoes the customer will purchase.”

Hicks commented significant customer changes are driving changes in the retail industry, including payments methods. He said that it is the customer who dictates terms, whether cash, credit, debit — or alternative payments.

Other retailers stressed the importance of reporting and analytics. On Jan. 12, Peter Lewis, the senior director of customer analytics and loyalty for Loblaws, shared lessons learned while developing Loblaws’ loyalty program. He said to fight to keep reporting a part of the program. “Without it, you’re flying blind,” Lewis said. He also stressed consistency in the loyalty program between the website and app and simplicity in the design of sign-up for program.

In her Super Saturday presentation, HSN (Home Shopping Network) CIO Karen Etzkorn talked about omni-channel, cross-channel, and her phrase of “boundaryless retail.” Etzkorn said data analytics are the backbone of HSN’s interactive experience between TV, tablets, mobile devices, and the desktop. The retailer has seen significant growth in online and mobile sales. Etzkorn said mobility is now 12 percent of HSN’s overall business, a 57 percent increase compared to last year.

Super Saturday’s “Retail Cool Panel,” billed as “young innovative retailers doing things that are breaking the mold,” also shared insights on the role of technology. During the panel, STORY founder Rachel Schectman said, “In retail, we’re going to see more community and more entertainment. If you’re going to put retail technology into a store, give me an experience I can’t get at home.”