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Mobile technology. Digital innovations. Social Commerce. These and many other trends are constantly being changed and being updated with new solutions, services and strategies. Retail TouchPoints editors stay on top of the latest activities and announcements, and bring you fresh perspectives on the hottest trends affecting the marketplace. Check back regularly for the latest new perspectives.

NRF 2018 Recap: Positive Economic Forecast, The ROI Of AI, China’s Fast Growth

The National Retail Federation Big Show 2018 is in the rear-view mirror now, but the insights that were shared will make their mark throughout the coming year. The good news is that, judging by the crowds and overall excitement at New York City’s Javits Center, the retail industry is definitely not in an apocalyptic — or even a post-apocalyptic — phase. In fact, a roundtable of economists pointed to strong holiday sales, high consumer confidence levels and the recent tax cuts as reasons for optimism in the coming year. The Retail TouchPointseditorial team shares some of the major headlines from the show, which was held January 14-16, including:

How Amazon Flexes Its Private Label Muscle

Amazon has a number of powerful assets, from logistics expertise and one-click payments to its quasi-captive audience of Prime members. But one of its strongest weapons flies almost under the radar: the retailer’s growing “muscle” in private label. “Amazon has access to more customer search and purchase data than anyone else,” said James Thomson, Partner, Buy Box Experts. “This data, properly analyzed, gives Amazon a huge advantage over all brands, most of which can at best buy scanner data from the odd retailer. With its own customer data, Amazon is able to know the product gaps and price points that are likely to succeed.”

Terry Lundgren, Retail CEOs All Agree: Personalization Is Paramount For 2018

The fourth annual NRF Foundation Gala took place in New York City on Jan. 14, featuring an awards program and formal dinner that included both silent and live auctions. The event raised more than $2.8 million to support the Foundation’s programs, including educational and inspirational initiatives and student scholarships — and it also showcased a preview of things to come in 2018. Terry Lundgren, the former CEO of Macy’s, as well as CEOs from major retailers including Neiman Marcus, Petco, 1-800-FLOWERS.com and BJ’s Wholesale Club, shared their insights on the coming year from the event’s exclusive red carpet. One common theme emanated from the execs: Personalization initiatives will determine the success of retail customer experiences going forward.

Walmart CEO McMillon Champions Employee Training And Business Transparency

The headlines last week focused on Walmart raising its starting minimum wage to $11 per hour, adding benefits and offering a one-time bonus to employees. But the most important long-term investment in its people is the retailer’s commitment to training, according to President and CEO Doug McMillon. “We know what every retailer knows — that this is a people business,” said McMillon, who was interviewed by National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay on Jan. 14 at the NRF Big Show in New York City. “What customers feel when they leave our stores determines how many times they will come back.”

Will Sears Live To See Holiday 2018?

While department stores such as Macy’s, Kohl’s, JCPenney and Nordstrom all generated promising holiday sales numbers, Sears had an abysmal November and December: same store sales dropped 16% to 17%. These figures are the latest indication that Sears and Kmart are on their last legs: the retailers shuttered 358 stores in 2017, and 103 more closures are expected for 2018. Is there anything Sears can do to engineer a comeback? Retail analysts don’t have much confidence in such an alternative, with many believing that the ship to recovery sailed long ago.

NRF Big Show Preview: Editors Pick The ‘Hot’ Sessions

When people call the National Retail Federation’s annual gathering at New York City’s Javits Center the Big Show, they are not exaggerating. From Jan. 14-16, a total of 35,000 attendees from 95 countries will tour the booths of 600+ exhibitors, and more than 3,500 retail companies will be represented by 18,000 retailers. Beyond the Expo floor, there are hundreds of educational sessions to choose from, with speakers ranging from keynoter Arianna Huffington to retail’s own gallery of movers and shakers. A very partial list includes Macy’s Terry Lundgren, Marvin Ellison of JCPenney, Tommy Hilfiger, Hubert Joly of Best Buy, Karen Katz of Neiman Marcus and Lee McCabe of Alibaba Group.

Is Voice The Next Advertising Frontier For Amazon?

Amazon has reportedly been talking with major CPG companies, including Procter & Gamble and Clorox, about introducing digital ads to its Alexa voice platform, according to CNBC. Early discussions have focused on whether companies would pay for higher placement when a consumer searches for a product on their Echo device — similar to the way paid searches put sponsored results higher up in Google search results. Both voice and digital advertising are becoming major forces in the retail and CPG industries. Amazon claims that millions of Prime members used Amazon Alexa to shop by voice for gifts during the 2017 holiday season, and that the Echo Dot was the number-one selling Amazon Device during this period. Amazon Echo had 70.6% of voice assistant user share in May 2017, more than triple the 23.8% of Google Home, according to eMarketer. Overall, eMarketer forecasted that 35.6 million Americans would use a voice-activated assistant at least once a month in 2017, a 129% increase over the previous year.

Can Department Stores Save Themselves In 2018?

With the 2017 holiday shopping season now in the rear-view mirror, 2018 represents a major “prove it” period for department stores. The sector has taken quarterly sales hits for several years, forcing major players to shutter hundreds of stores, but early holiday numbers indicate these retailers have harnessed some positive momentum. Specialty apparel and department store retailers, which traditionally complete the majority of sales in-store, reported moderate gains during the holiday season, according to Mastercard, which called those gains impressive despite the number of recent store closings in 2017.

Study: Outdated Planning Solutions Hamper Customer-Centricity

Retailers know that success in today’s environment requires them to align their systems and organizations around fulfilling customer-led demand. But outdated planning systems and the legacy of channel-specific inventories still present major stumbling blocks many retailers. Still, brands including Uniqlo, Zara and Bonobos have solved some of these challenges, in part by more closely aligning customer data with planning systems. In its 2017 Merchandise Planning Benchmark Survey, Boston Retail Partners (BRP) set out to gauge the current state of retail planning processes and systems, including merchandise planning, assortment planning and localization, store planning, allocation, omnichannel demand planning and space planning. “To innovate the customer experience, [retailers] must transform their disparate systems, processes and organization into one cohesive environment with the ability to offer customers a seamless shopping environment across any channel and the capability to deliver merchandise immediately — wherever it is needed,” according to the report.

Salesforce NYC Event Highlights Personalization In Action

Salesforce took its Dreamforce event on the road, landing at New York City’s Javits Center Dec. 14. The keynotes, presentations and breakout sessions covered a wide range of solutions and success stories, but the overriding theme for retailers was the importance of applying personalization at every stage of the shopper journey. Some of the event’s highlights included: • How Adidas marketers are leveraging the Salesforce Einstein AI solution to orchestrate personalized consumer journeys across multiple digital devices; and • How UGG shoes are simplifying mobile searches with machine learning-based product recommendations.

Exclusive Q&A: Salesforce Retail SVP On Why AI Is Driving The Future Of Personalization

During its annual Dreamforce event in San Francisco in November, Salesforce doubled down on its mission to help retailers create more immersive and relevant customer experiences across all channels. Touting success stories from Adidas, Party City and Suitsupply, the company’s SVP of Retail, Shelley Bransten, helped transform some of the hottest buzzwords in retail — “personalization” and “AI” — into tangible, real-world tools for retailers’ toolkits. A few weeks later, during the heart of the holiday shopping season, Bransten spoke to Retail TouchPoints to discuss:

DHL Adding Workers, Robotics And AR To Support Record Holiday Sales

Ramping up to address a forecasted volume growth between 15% and 40% this holiday season, DHL is hiring an additional 6,000 seasonal workers across its four business units in North America. The expansion is designed to support DHL’s contract logistics, fulfillment, freight transportation and express delivery operations, including additional flights, as well as piloting new warehousing technologies that leverage robotics and augmented reality to increase productivity. The expansion is aimed at addressing the record sales from Cyber Monday, as well as changing expectations of online shoppers. “To help our retail customers in the U.S. meet the demands of online shoppers for greater transparency, convenience and speed, we have to balance increased capacity with improved efficiency and to offer flexible omnichannel solutions,” said DHL eCommerce CEO Lee Spratt.

Are Amazon’s Calvin Klein Exclusives Good For The Brands?

Calvin Klein is offering Amazon customers exclusive styles in the two CALVIN KLEIN X Amazon Fashion pop-up stores, as well as online at Amazon.com/mycalvins. The stores, open until Dec. 31, also are showcasing the latest Amazon technologies, including: • Fitting rooms with Amazon Echo devices, allowing shoppers to ask Alexa questions about Calvin Klein products and control the lighting and music;• Content creation stations to encourage shoppers to create shareable media clips; and• Lounges with video calling to connect the bi-coastal stores in New York City’s SoHo and Santa Monica, Calif.

Consumers ‘Can’t Get No’ Satisfaction With Customer Service

Improving the customer experience is a priority for almost any retailer today, but the front-line people and technologies consumers turn to when they have problems are falling short, according to the 2017 National Customer Rage Study. Consumers feel their headaches have increased steadily over the years, with 56% of 2017 respondents experiencing problems with at least one product or service over the past year. In 1976, 32% of consumers reported having problems in the previous 12 months. That percentage averaged 42% from 2003 to 2013, but spiked to 54% in 2015.

Exclusive Q&A: In Amazon’s Search For HQ2, Tech Workforce Will Be Key Factor

Lots of cities want Amazon to call their location home — even if it’s only a second home. After announcing the search for a city to host its second headquarters, the pure play giant received proposals from a remarkable 238 cities and regions across North America, all vying for the promised $5 billion in investment and 50,000 jobs that will come with being “Amazon HQ2.” While Amazon will not announce its decision until early 2018, experts already are handicapping which cities are the likeliest candidates. Attorney Steven Polivy, Chair of the Economic Development and Incentives Practice at Akerman LLP, believes the presence of a highly trained tech workforce will be a critical factor in the winning city’s bid. Additionally, Amazon being Amazon, Polivy believes the company will make good use of data gathered during the search process in order to deepen its understanding of customers, competitors and geographies.
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