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The Future Retail Pathway Unveiled at NRF 2024

Another year has come and gone for ‘Retail’s Big Show;’ this year focused on themes from innovative store layouts to improved associate experiences to, of course, AI.

Over 1000 displays at this year’s event showed off a wide range of solutions, including color-coded vignettes for thematic brand experiences, various intriguing mock store model demonstrations, or the myriad uses of generative AI in the modern retail context.

The event was as energetic as any year prior despite the challenges faced by the industry (and not just because of the endless coffee bars). The focus on innovation was a testament to the industry’s resilience in the face of challenges such as supply chain disruptions and inflationary economics, its ability to dynamically meet trends with a blend of tech and old-fashioned customer service in modern retail stores.

Major events included Magic Johnson’s motivational speech on business success, FedEx’s presentation on the power of better supply chains, and Lenovo’s (among many others) cross-industry discussion on the potential and power of generative AI.

The grand takeaway? Keeping up with the latest key technologies in an increasingly margin-squeezed and rapidly adjusting retail environment is increasingly synonymous with staying competitive.

One of those key technologies is scalable, dynamic, customer experience facilitating systems such as high-speed mobile internet. This was highlighted during T-Mobile for Business ‘Big Ideas Session The 5G Era of Retail: Improved Shopping Experiences Fueled by Smart Store Capabilities.

Hosted by Ron Thurston, Co-Founder of OSSY and author of RETAIL PRIDE, and featured Roopi Crowley, Managing Director of Retail Strategic Accounts at T-Mobile for Business; Al Lettera, Senior Vice President, Information Technology at Tractor Supply Company; and Mark J. Edwards, CEO at 345 Global, the panel presented insights that highlighted the growth in T-Mobile for Business and Tractor Supply Company’s partnership, including bettering associate experiences that translate clearly and directly to better overall customer journeys.

Their talk touches on several themes from this year’s event including the urgency of adopting better technologies, particularly to strengthen reliability, flexibility, and scalability in critical business infrastructure such as a retailer’s connectivity solution.

Crowley emphasizes that retailers lacking robust connectivity may find innovation challenging, as deploying new solutions becomes increasingly difficult without a solid foundation: “The foundation has to be strong before you can build upon it”. 

345 Global’s Mark Edwards further commented on the urgency of leveraging new tools to rethink store layouts in a strategically cohesive way.

Notes Edwards, “I’ve always believed that the store is the bucket as opposed to the planogram. If we can take a store with 350 planograms and 50,000 products, macro space optimization is the first key,” going on to explain that to plan on this scale, fast connectivity and a host of other tech innovations are required to facilitate the kind of data gathering demanded.

“The key part of that is moving data,” Edwards explains, pointing to another key theme: the need to have the data infrastructure necessary to meet your goals. For the modern data bandwidths of today and tomorrow, that also means having a network fast enough to handle it.

“If a retailer is really going to be successful, they have to look at their infrastructure, then they layer on platforms to deliver the solutions that they need to” continues Crowley.

If leveraging new tools and investing in better digital infrastructures are two key lessons for 2024, the third is a synthesis: to get the most out of your data, you have to seek ways to empower it, and through that empowerment, empower your associates as well.  

Indeed, empowering employees to enhance both their working lives and their ability to interact with customers on store floors in an efficient manner is a core effort moving forward. 

This is especially true at a time when 52% of customers now switch to competitors upon even one negative impression and, in terms of the competition, 80% of industry leaders are already set to increase budgets for CX in 2024.

By equipping your team with the best tools and connectivity possible, you allow them to provide better informed and more immediate, quality care to consumers. This serves the dual purpose of providing a more omnichannel robust in-store experience and providing an edge in employee retention.

These new technologies and infrastructure improvements help data tell a better story, notes Edwards, “telling us where we are going,” and, ultimately, how to get to where we want to be as an industry.

For more information, watch The 5G Era of Retail: Improved Shopping Experiences Fueled by Smart Store Capabilities Big Ideas Session Highlights Here.