NRF 2023 Recap: Retail is Changing

Tier 1 retailers are leading the way with innovation that will enhance CX with consistency across channels, more self-service options, and less friction

It was great to be back at the National Retail Federation (NRF) Retail’s Big Show in 2023. One of the primary reasons is — after a remote-only event in 2021 and lower-than-normal attendance in 2022 — retail turned out in a big way in 2023. NRF 2023 also had a unique energy. You could see firsthand that retailers are motivated to do business in new ways, transform digitally, and meet consumer expectations for omnichannel experiences.

Omnichannel, 2023

Omnichannel retail has been around for a while. But it’s obvious that retailers are thinking beyond checkout through different channels to create total omnichannel experiences for their customers. Think: buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, cross-channel marketing and loyalty, and in-store kiosks with endless aisle solutions. The Expo at NRF 2023 was filled with technology and examples of how retailers are meeting consumers’ demands for more of an “online experience” in-store. The industry is moving toward consistent experiences, regardless of where consumers shop.

For example, Samsung displayed several new technologies that enable brick-and-mortar retailers to use data to create more personalized shopping experiences and immersive advertising in-store. Additionally, Toshiba and Wayfair presented a session on digital transformation to create fully connected and adaptable retail experiences.

An interesting observation from the show is that Tier 1 retailers are blazing the trail. But based on NRF’s Retail’s Big Show 2023 attendees engaged with technology solutions providers, new omnichannel experiences are beginning to trickle down-market to Tier 2 and even smaller retailers.

Self-Service and the Labor Shortage

The NRF Expo and show attendees also confirmed that retailers are turning up the volume on unattended checkout and self-service kiosks for returns, restaurant orders, and endless aisle capabilities. The labor shortage continues, although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows it’s eased a bit from November 2021, when there were more than a million job openings in retail, to November 2022, when there were 887,000 openings. However, most retailers are still operating short-staffed and “career openings available” signs are visible at retail locations of all sizes.

Self-service and unattended checkout can help solve that pain point by enabling customers to take the lead when they need to look up product information, check availability, and check out. Then, retailers can reallocate employees to other tasks.

Retailers also need a practical way to manage unattended payments. Disparate self-service solutions will only add to the complexity of managing a retail business. The best strategy is to create a connected IT ecosystem, including kiosks, self-checkouts, point of sale (POS), and e-commerce, with one omnichannel payment platform for all transactions. It allows retailers to achieve their goal of consistent CX however customers engage while making life easier for the back office and accounting.

Improving Operational Efficiency, Present and Future

As always, the 2023 NRF Expo was filled with technologies designed for greater efficiency. For example, HAT Design Works displayed its ergonomic workplace solutions that help cashiers and store associates work more comfortably and productively. Additionally, Zebra Technologies was on hand to discuss tech tools that optimize inventory management, communications, workforce management, and supply chain visibility.

However, the Expo also provided a glimpse into technologies that may become commonplace in the coming years, such as solutions from Retail Robotics, Alpha AR virtual try-on and virtual reality, ARHT holography, and Fujitsu palm vein biometric payments—also on display at the Ingenico booth.

NRF’s 2023 Retail’s Big Show put retailers’ innovation and determination on display, a sign that, regardless of the challenges the industry is facing, there are great things to come. It will be interesting to see what’s at the Expo next year.

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