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Retail Trends in 2020 – Insights from NRF

If you work in retail, you wake up each day, put on the uniform, and head to work. Your outfit, your store layout, and the way you interact with customers who walk in your doors are all in harmony. This experience extends to your digital presence across all channels, helping your customers understand who you and your brand are.

At least, that’s the ideal state.

However, the reality is often different. 

On your website, you perform usability testing, A/B testing, and analyze user behaviors as they flow through your site. You update, you measure, you refine. 

You define a standard uniform and store layout for your brick and mortar locations. Compliance is not as simple to manage as it is for your website, but still, it is not too difficult.

You train your associates, your managers. They learn about your brand, your products, and the technology you use. You teach them how to work with the customers that walk into the stores. You send in armies of secret shoppers, you ask customers for feedback on their experiences, and you use this feedback to improve continuously.

However, far too often, you find associates using sticky notes, stacks of printed out paper, sharing content from your website that they printed out a week ago, or worse. To sneak in a few moments of training, they are creeping into the backroom to jump on the store computer to quickly get up to date. Training time and selling time do not mix, and one is often sacrificed, however, and associates are often called back to the floor as customer traffic ebbs and flow.

What can a retailer do?

After spending a few days in New York City for the National Retailers Federation Annual Conference (NRF 2020) I wanted to share a few of my takeaways on the main areas of focus for today’s retailers.

Retail Technologies Evolve

There was plenty of talk about Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, IoT, Augmented and Virtual Reality, Spatial Computing, data analytics, and so much more. All of these technologies are being used successfully today by some retailers. However, many are still struggling with delivering on the basics of retail store operations.

Store Communications

Most retail store employees do not have individual email addresses. There is no solution in place for corporations to directly communicate with these employees, and even store managers are primarily talking during the limited one-on-one time they find with their employees.

There was a great deal of discussion around the use of technologies like Bigtincan that enable corporate teams to communicate to these previously difficult to reach employees directly. These communications are delivered via:

  • Chat. Chat can be used between individuals within a store, to all employees in a store, or between corporate and retail locations.
  • Discussion Groups. Discussion areas can be set up to cover a wide variety of topics, allowing stakeholders to learn new information quickly as well as to follow-up and learn more.
  • Content can be targeted to specific individuals, stores, regions, or custom groups based upon each communication’s needs.

Training and Coaching

The same challenges exist for training and coaching as exist for communications. However, it’s even worse for training initiatives in most retail locations.


Methods to demonstrate what good looks like

Retail store networks are notoriously bad, with limited bandwidth being available to any system other than the PoS.

Video, Augmented Reality, and Spatial Computing are good technologies for demonstrating sales techniques, for sharing planograms, and much more. However, with poor network connectivity, retailers need retail enablement solutions like Bigtincan that can operate offline.

Easy to use systems

Most retailers with a learning system in place have difficult-to-use systems that require sellers and managers to leave the store floor, going into the backroom to access.

Frontline staff need easy-to-use, mobile solutions that are designed similarly to the applications they use every day.

Mobile tools ensure Sales Associates and Managers are on the floor with customers instead of in the back room, maximizing selling time.

Task Management

Corporate, District, and Store Managers, are often assigning tasks to stores and individual associates. For many organizations, there is no way to quickly determine if tasks were completed, much less if they have been completed satisfactorily.

With Bigtincan, stores can leverage task workflows to assign tasks as well as to track completion. What’s more, you can optionally require photo evidence of changes, allowing those who are not in the store to have confidence in the quality of the work as well as have a mechanism for auditing work.

Tasks are completed faster and at a higher level of quality due to clear ownership, measurement, and reporting of activities.

Final Thoughts

While technology was an area of focus at NRF 2020, the rise of the human factor was evident throughout the event. Retailers are recognizing that their associates must become strategic differentiators, giving customers a reason to not only buy on Amazon, but to come to their stores for a great customer experience that they won’t find online.

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