NRF Day 1

I happen to speak English – you may not. Retail Analyst Andrew Busby takes a look at what the 1st day from NRF 2017 had in store.



Much has been written in the lead up to this year’s BIG Show about the impact technology is poised to make on the retail industry and so one of the most eagerly anticipated NRF conferences in years opened today.

Of course, there are many different languages, English being just one of those and which happens to be my native tongue, yours might be different but of one thing I’m absolutely sure, it won’t be the language traditionally used by computers: binary. Bits & bytes 1 or 0; it has been the same for decades and can be traced all the way back to Alan Turing and the Turing machine in the 1940’s.

That is until now.

“Fundamentally, retail has remained unaltered for over 100 years; that, however is all about to change”

The retail industry is on the brink of a revolution, the like of which has never been seen before: ever.

Fundamentally, retail has remained unaltered for over 100 years; that, however is all about to change. The era of artificial intelligence has been upon us for a few years but at NRF 2017 we saw AI on steroids: cognitive computing. And leading the revolution is IBM with its Watson initiative (more of that to come on day 2). So what exactly is cognitive computing?

Put simply, it is a means by which a computer can become an extension of human expertise at huge scale. And that is because cognitive learns – 24×7. Up until now, computers, including those driving current analytics, can only process what they are pre-programmed to do. Not cognitive.

Cognitive learns by having the ability to process (just like you and I) unstructured data such as video, images, articles, news clips, social media etc

So what does all this mean for retail?

Two E’s emerged from the first day at NRF: engagement and experience. Retailers are anxiously seeking both in abundance. Better more intimate engagement with their customers in order to be able to deliver a more immersive experience which will encourage their customers to keep coming back for more.

But without deep understanding of the customer, levels of engagement and customer experience will always remain at an embryonic stage.

Elsewhere at NRF, as expected, robotics, AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) were strongly in evidence but the pattern had been set and underlined by two young forward thinking organisations at the end of the day.

Both Indochino and Shoes of Prey make custom fashion (suits and shoes respectively). Both see offline and online as one and significantly, both see data as the key to driving better personalisation. Really understanding their customers’ lifestyles and preferences, clearly forefront in their plans and in doing so perhaps they are both showing us the model for the future.


Andrew Busby is founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board and an IBM Futurist


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