That was the week that was

Big, bright, bold and sometimes beautiful, the world’s largest retail conference and exhibition, the National Retail Federation’s Big Show, never fails to deliver.

This year saw over 37,000 people from 99 countries, including over 16,000 delegates from 3,500 retail corporations, troop around ten stages and traverse the halls housing 792 exhibitors. The McDonald Butler team caught up with some 200 UK retailers across the four days and saw some fascinating presentations, many of which addressed what the World Economic Forum has called the fourth industrial revolution.

It’s impossible to distil 200-plus sessions into a blog, but some key themes ran through the event like writing through a stick of rock. One of the biggest was the new connectivity.

No, not the Internet of Things, that’s so 2017, in this context. No, more the connections between different platforms, different experiences; the connections between behind the scenes operations and front of house; the connections between people and technology.

If 2017 was about the impact of machines and in 2018 the role of people in the in-store experience was brought to the fore, this year’s event was more about the inter-connectivity between human and machine to deliver consistent and pleasurable shopper experiences driven by Big Data.

More than ever, the in-store experience must live up to the online experience and vice versa. Physical stores must offer theatre, must be a destination and experience in their own right, and – crucially – incorporate the best the digital world has to offer. The digital experience must flow seamlessly into the offline world. Preferences and personal specifications must be imported seamlessly into the physical realm, which subsequently informs the online experience. We’re talking indivisibility.

Service was another interesting theme. A more service-oriented culture that anticipates as well as satisfies customer need. But more, service reimagined for an era that wants greater longevity for its products for the good of the planet. Greater product longevity and greater depth and length of relationship around that idea of a contract. Forget fast fashion and its inherent disposability; think clothes as a service. More of this in another blog as we gear up to Retail Tomorrow on March 7thand 8th.

Perhaps the most interesting theme was the underlying buzz about the conference. Not explicit. No keynotes on it. But people were talking about a new understanding of the role of trust in retail. Trust between retailer and customer: trust that my data is secure with you; that you remember, understand and respect my preferences; that you treat me as a person with respect and trust. Yes, all of that and more. More in terms of the trust between tech partners and retailers as the latter comes to rely more and more on the former. And further, trust between the many and varied partners that support the retailers’ activities. This is a subject I intend to revisit in detail soon.

For now, I’d like to thank the 250 people who came to our legendary after party, this year at the Empire Rooftop, and to offer my apologies to those that weren’t able to attend.

Watch this space. There’s much we need to talk about in the coming weeks before the next Retail Tomorrow at the Four Seasons in Hampshire.