Now that the NRF’s Big Show 2022 has wrapped, here’s my take on the biggest themes, take-aways, observations, and sources of inspiration from the show.
This year’s conference – one of the largest retail conferences of its kind – was once again defined by the pandemic. Over the course of the three days, I and other attendees could see the effect of the pandemic on both the number of exhibitors and the number of attendees (or lack of). Although there are a lot of exciting new brands and products on the conference floor – many of which emphasized or reflected the ever changing demands that the current situation is placing on retailers – there was a noticeable absence of some of the big players including Microsoft and Google, who skipped the conference this year for either the safety of their teams or the lack of healthy employees to represent them. This absence left some large gaping dancefloor-like spaces throughout the massive conference floor, and gave it a feel of a half baked conference.
All that to say, there were some exciting highlights from the conference and many inspiring brands and products. Most notably was the buzz-like atmosphere on the lower level where the Innovation Lab and the Tech Zones were located. Those two spaces were well attended by attendees, some of whom were part of large groups and delegations from across North and South America – in particular Brazil and Mexico. The types of companies showcasing their wares in these zones ranged from AI tools, digital commerce, autonomous vehicle delivery and digital store planogramming, to the overarching retail metaverse. Standouts included Zliide out of Denmark which showcased a unique application for fashion self-checkout that could also be applied to other categories. Swirl from Finland/India also demonstrated its live video e-commerce product that puts the power in the hands of the consumer. Yawye had a booth where the company questioned the way attendees thought about conducting brand surveys, instead focusing on the universal language of emojis to get a read on how consumers view products, brands, and services. I think they may be onto something here…..
In addition to the Innovation Lab and Tech Zone, there were many other impressive companies and features, with more than 1,000 exhibitors, speakers, and workshops. Some of the highlights included products such as OnQ Solution’s new mobile device platform that puts the power of the store experience in the hands of the customer, Tulip’s impressive omnichannel platform and sales associate scheduling dashboard, and SYNQ’s touchless lockers for in-store pickups, drop offs, or returns.
In addition to the specific innovations and solutions presented, a few high level trends emerged from the conference, although they reflected more of a continuation of pandemic-era trends from last year than new emerging trends. There was much discussion around the ongoing focus on hyper-personalisation for the customer experience, improving the transition of the online-to-offline shopping experience, and the increasing pandemic-driven expectations of customers to be able to shop the way they want to shop using any touchpoint within the customer journey.
All in all, the conference was educational, inspiring and informative, and I look forward to seeing where the innovations and trends presented at the conference go over the course of 2022.