3 Lessons We Learned at NRF 2019

by Emma Leuman | Jan 22, 2019 12:00:00 AM

The world of retail is ever-changing. With each year comes a new host of strategies and tactics to consider, new ways to understand consumer thoughts and purchasing habits, and new technology that sets out to make us more efficient and effective.

The one event that sets the stage for the upcoming year in retail is the National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show, which just concluded its 2019 event. While we took away many lessons about how grocers should adapt to changes within the world of retail, there were a few overarching takeaways that we wanted to call out that affect the entire industry.

Transparency is critical

Though the concept itself is nothing new, transparency was an integral focus of this year’s NRF speaker sessions. Customers have always sought information from the companies they purchase from in one form or another. However, the shift in this information conversation signifies a trend toward values-based shopping.

Before customers make a purchase from you, sometimes before they even enter your store, they want to be sure that they understand what their patronage is supporting. Gone are the days of retailers having the luxury of sitting idly by when confronted by social issues, sustainable and ethical business practices, and major community events.

To stand out in today’s retail environment, companies need to have a clear set of values, a list of ideals that they consult before making decisions both big and small. Those values should be publicly known, easily accessible and understood by your customers. The more transparent that you are about your vision for your company (and the world around you), the more opportunities you give your customers to relate to you.

The more that a customer can see you as a company built by people who share their values, instead of just another store on the block, the more likely they are to become loyal to your brand.

Interestingly, your employees are also keen on having a transparent experience within your company. They have a desire to know the inner workings of your organization: why you make the decisions that you do, when you’re planning on instituting a major change that could affect their workflow, and even when you introduce new products into your inventory. Employees want to hear from upper-level management on a regular basis so that they can feel connected to the company’s values and mission.

In a session called, “Creating Brand Ambassadors from Employees to Customers,” executives from JCPenney, Loignon Associates, and Hughes Network Systems went into detail about the ways in which they keep their associates up-to-date, including the use of an internal broadcasting network that allows entire companies to receive messages from HQ.

This year, consider the ways in which your company could become more transparent internally and externally. Taking even one small step toward sharing information with those who work for you, and those who shop from you, could result in major improvements in employee engagement and customer loyalty.

The workforce is evolving

One anecdote that stood out to us came in a session titled, “The People Make the Place: Insights from Top Retail Workspaces”. Mayerland Harris, the Vice President of HR for H-E-B said, “As retailers, we are often an employee’s first job.” It’s true: new associates today are often young in age and light on experience, and they choose the retail industry as their first foray into the business world.

However, that may be changing. In another session called, “What Grocery Retail will Look Like in 2030”, researchers made the case for a different type of retail workforce. As technology continues to expand its abilities and take over more of the work that suits an inexperienced worker, the employees that retailers seek out will look a bit different.

First, there will be less of them. Whereas today, retailers rely on a legion of associates in order to maintain everyday efficiency, technology will negate that need in the future.

Retail employees will also need to be more qualified. They will not only be expected to provide excellent customer service, they will also need to manage the technology mentioned above that will take over routine responsibilities. In the future, retail associates will be seen as more than an extra set of hands – they will be the experts within your store.

Finally, these fewer, highly-qualified employees will need to be paid more. Retail positions will no longer be entry-level, necessitating a shift from base pay to an amount that befits a worker with more experience and responsibility. Employers need to get on board with these new figures now in order to prepare for the upcoming workforce shift.

It’s time to get personal

With all the talk at NRF 2019 about new tools that will allow retailers to collect more data about their shoppers, their habits, and the performance of their stores, it’s clear that the trend toward personalization isn’t going anywhere.

What’s more: customers actually expect a personalized shopping experience. While many consumers are wary of the amount of data that they are providing to companies, they still expect to be served advertisements, discount offers, products, and an experience that directly correlates with their habits.

Digitally, this can translate into a voluntary data exchange, in which a consumer offers you a bit of data (say, their birthday) in exchange for a reward (perhaps a birthday discount). This can help you collect the data that you need to offer your customer the experience that they’re looking for, without incurring the kind of negative response that can result from less congenial data-grabbing.

In-store, personalization has the potential to evolve into a widely-used practice due to advances in facial recognition. In the near future, it will be possible to identify a customer as they come into your store and serve them an offer either digitally or physically on a display that is personalized to their buying habits. Employers should begin to consider the ways in which they could use this data to their advantage in marketing, merchandising, and buying.


These overarching lessons from speakers at NRF 2019 can apply to retailers from every segment of the industry, including grocery. As you make plans for the year ahead, think back to these trends: transparency, an evolving workforce, and personalization. Let them guide you in your decision-making process, and you’re sure to lead the way forward.

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