Artificial intelligence, smart fitting rooms, and customized garments are all top of mind for retailers around the globe. There has been an acceleration of technology’s application to the shopping experience over the last few years and there are no signs of it slowing down. The reality is there are no boundaries between online and offline commerce anymore. Consumers expect a seamless experience across every touch point with a retailer despite the channel. Nowhere were these shifting consumer desires more apparent than at the recent NRF show in New York. Over the course of a week, leaders from hundreds of the world’s most recognizable brands took to the stage to share their thoughts on the trends that will be shaping the retail industry moving forward. The three themes below summarize the key trends coming out of the event.

Using technology to create integrated experiences

“Retailers must balance shopping tools with consumer content. You can tech consumers to death but if you don’t give them the info they want, it doesn’t matter.” — John White, COO of Fossil Group.

Consumers are being given more and more freedom to express themselves and interact with retailers in new ways. Of smartphone users, 82% consult their phones while they’re standing in a store deciding which product to buy. One in 10 of those ends up buying a different product than they had planned. (Google MicroMoments) During the conference this year, The North Face provided a demo of a beta product they have created in partnership with IBM Watson. Available on both desktop and mobile, The North Face allows users to select products by answering a series of prompts that drive them through the product search funnel in a way previously not experienced by consumers. By answering questions like, “Where are you going?” and “What activities will this be used for?” the IBM Watson-driven engine provides product suggestions based on the consumer’s answers. This is the first application of the artificial intelligence engine applied to the shopping experience and could be a great opportunity for integration with consumer-generated content.

The North Face isn’t the only brand making strides in retail technology. Under Armour (UA) CEO, Kevin Plank spoke of the company’s new Connected Fitness suite of apps and its role in better understanding their consumer. Using this technology, Under Armour is able to track the training behaviors, gear usage, and overall health of their user base. With this information, UA is building a product recommendation engine within their app, as well as building the capability to predict fitness trends. Under Armour plans to use this information to make inventory management decisions, product changes, and who knows what else – with technology, the sky is truly the limit. This is a great example of how technology is being used to enhance the consumer experience without interrupting the buyer.

Fluid

Rethinking marketing measurement and ROI

Historically, marketing organizations have focused the majority of their efforts in the lower funnel since it’s easier to measure the impact of those early-on interactions. According to a study by Adobe, “93% if CMOs say they are under more pressure to deliver measurable ROI, and 81% of marketers would increase spending on digital, mobile, and social channels if they could better track ROI.” And while being ROI-driven is a good thing, it shouldn’t come at the expense of ignoring other crucial pieces of the consumer journey. Retailers are beginning to implement the proper metrics to measure success higher in the funnel and are coming to the realization that it’s not all about conversion. Retailers must reshape the way they engage with customers and measure effectiveness of marketing dollars. For example, with consumer-generated content online conversion is a big component of ROI, but retailers must also consider the offline sales, increased effectiveness of their marketing, reduced returns, and even repeat visits when submitting content.

Google presented a Consumer Intent Framework that outlined one way to approach this and the tactics for each phase. In the framework shown below, there are three keys to successful implementation.

  • Define the objective of each marketing tactic. Don’t default to thinking that everything will directly drive a sale.
  • Align the measurement for each tactic to the objective you are trying to achieve. Don’t judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree.
  • Identify the influencers and stakeholders in your organization and get their buy-in on the measurement plan before you start.
Google Consumer Intent Framework

AT&T has done a great job bringing Google’s mode of thinking into their organization – see how they are engaging with Millenials at the “Think” point in the funnel.

The use of data in decision-making

In 2016, retailers are in what is referred to as the “Diagnostic Period of Analytics” and beginning to move into predictive and prescriptive capabilities. Ultimately, the goal is to move into preemptive analytics where we will know what consumers need before they even begin to shop. This information and capability apply not only to the customer but also to product creation and inventory management.

These increased data capabilities, combined with changing consumer expectations, are pushing retailers to redefine the role and the value of “the store” in the shopping experience. As such, retailers are working to build a larger digital presence through partnerships with technology companies. Intel announced a new platform that allows retailers to pull new data sources from mobile, RFID, wearables, and social and integrate them with traditional data sources to glean insights into buyer behavior. This is enabling retailers to delight customers with personalized and targeted offers based on buyer history and behaviors in real-time.

SmartTrac

Industry analysts predict that by 2020 we will be in a post-omnichannel world. Everything will be data-driven, with brand affinity and consumer trust being the top KPIs. Decisions that were historically made from the lens of experience and intuition will now only be made through the use of data analytics and behaviors of the buyer in the store.

Though we’re starting to see progress, especially with brands like those at NRF leading the way, there’s still a ways to go before we truly create the kind of retail environment consumers expect. It’ll take the commitment from the industry as a whole and a willingness for brands to take big leaps. As a brand, don’t be afraid to try new things in your online or in-store experience – you never know what will move the needle in the eyes of your consumer. Perhaps those big steps may result in your company representing the next level of innovation at NRF 2017.