Retail’s Big Reset

By Mike Butler

NRF went completely online for the first time ever this year and managed to still deliver a comprehensive wrap-up of the year gone by and a vision for the year ahead.  We take a quick look at the key trends and talking points to come out of NRF 2021.

It was an NRF like no other.  The times being what they are, those of us whose seasonal body clocks seem to direct us to boarding planes bound for New York at the start of each year understood well in advance that this will be a year of some compromises and disappointments … but also unexpected surprises and success stories.  As well as possibilities for speedy innovation.

So NRF 2021 went online for its January “chapter”. And sure, let’s all admit that you do inevitably lose something of the buzz and excitement of sessions when you’re watching them streamed – most of them pre-recorded, not live – without the spontaneity of look-you-in-the-eye questions and conversations.  That said, in my opinion the online iteration of NRF did a good job of sharing insight and experience to forward-thinking retailers.

In fact, as soon became apparent, early 2021 marked a time in which it was more important than ever for those in retail to get together, compare notes and experiences from something of a shell-shocked year, and work out how to – in the words of NRF Chairman Mike George from his moving opening keynote – “move forward together”.

The best of the best

Individual standout sessions for me included an enlightening conversation with retail guru Miya Knights in which she underlined the central importance to retailers of concentrating on mobile in a year where eCommerce more generally saw massively increased uptake, and around the need to re-imagine the supply chain – both to cope with ongoing pandemic disruption, and to become more customer-centric.  Another was a session by Euromonitor International sharing results of their new consumer survey with some surprising results, genuinely helpful for retailers wanting to know where best to put their tech spend this year.

Probably my personal favourite session came from consumer visionary and CEO of GDR Creative Intelligence Kate Ancketill entitled ‘Retail’s Hard Reset: How cataclysmic events accelerate trends, transformation and innovation.’  Kate has been a regular speaker at Retail in Detail events over the last few years and I’ve seen audiences of senior retailers often nod politely but patronisingly when she has talked about how important livestreaming is going to become imminently.  Many retailers in Europe and North America have dismissed this as something of a fad for Asia-Pacific consumers.  Well this year proved Kate right about this and many other things – which is no less than we’d expect from such a switched-on futurologist.  In fact I liked Kate’s talk so much I invited her to give an updated version of it to Retail in Detail’s own NRF “wrap-up” event last week for UK retail leaders (which went very well – you can read more about it here).