Our team recently attended the NRF 2023 #NRF2023 Show at the Javits Center in New York from Jan 14 – 17 and Wow! Not since ShopTalk has one show drawn such a global crowd of e-commerce and retail professionals and it was one huge party – probably the largest trade show with e-commerce merchants and vendors since prior to the pandemic.
There was absolutely no sign of recessionary fear here with merchants and vendors making big plans to keep pressing technology and R&D investments in an effort to find and pass the cutting edge of consumer retail experiences – both digital and in-person.
If you didn’t have a chance to attend and you work in the digital commerce space, this brief recap is intended to give you an idea of what you missed and why you might want to attend next year — whether you are a merchant, a supplier, a member of the digital commerce media, or a student (yes many of these segments get much deeper discounts than us agencies and suppliers!). Since the show follows quickly on the heels of the big electronics product innovation show in Las Vegas, CES, it makes sense that a number of vendors and technology firms headed east to show off the results of their technology efforts for retailers too; there was a lot of coolness among the talks, the meetups, the parties, and the off-sites. Here’s what we experienced:
BIG WAS THE NAME OF THE GAME
If you like BIG trade shows for retail and you like big suppliers and vendor companies, this is a show not to miss. Compared to last year the two exposition floors where completely packed with booths / very little room left and if you know the Javitz Center, you know it’s a BIG facility. In fact booths were set up outside the exposition floor for the first time since we’ve been coming (our 4th time as Accorin / Wasserman).
THIS SHOW WAS GLOBAL
The fact that it happens over a US holiday weekend (MLK Day) may have an impact on the international attendance. Without doing an exact count, I would say 50% was international with a ton of representation from Latin America and Europe. Germany and Scandinavia were well-represented in the technology supplier (hardware / software) sectors and the innovative AI space as truly global.
INNOVATIVE RETAIL EXPERIENCES FOR THE (NEAR) FUTURE
If you came to the show to learn more about headless and e-commerce platform options you could but it seems as though composable / headless planning on the part of merchants ( like our Headless Collective) are here to stay. The retail magic with AI-driven shopping experience innovations were really the attention-getters with many of the attendees. Apparel fabrics that change color outside. Dressing room mirrors that can flip through different looks while you stand in front of them. Robots that make the perfect Latte. Scanners that work with AI and your customer e-commerce data to augment shelf access when you walk into a retail setting. These cool retail innovations provided a lot of eye candy that to some degree overshadowed many of the e-commerce software vendors that had a lot of great new features to showcase or roadmaps to share.
Link to the latte robot here (Twitter?)
AWESOME OFFSITE ECOMMERCE PARTIES
There was no shortage of off site parties and our e-commerce community represented well there. BigCommerce hosted a fabulous soiree at the Raines La Room in mid town – a spectacular old school brownstone setting with Victorian decor and food and beverages to satisfy anyone. And what about the Tiffany Piggy Banks as party favors? Best party favor ever. Hands down. The other great aspect of BigCommerce showing in force to a show like NRF is its amazing how accessible their entire executive team is. As a partner its fantastic to not only rub elbows with, but ask questions of and have fun with leaders of a publicly-traded, quickly growing e-commerce platform company.
Bloomreach made an interesting decision to forego a booth at the Javitz and host a hospitality event on the 24th floor of a Hudson Yards / Equinox Hotel space overlooking the venue and the entire skyline and river of the city. It was a fantastic venue where an attendee could take a needed break from the busy and massive show
Always a huge participant at NRF and with a ton of large retail brand customers in attendance Adobe continued to push its Experience Cloud and omnichannel commerce value. The advantages of larger enterprises adopting the stack or even major parts thereof were on display with a contingent of sales folks willing to engage. Adobe Commerce continues to push the value of PAAS architecture, unified commerce, and the importance of performance in e-commerce as pillars of its value proposition. Of course it has Sensei AI built in to Adobe Commerce now so they are making adoption of AI-fueled customer experiences across channels (or just on e-commerce) easier than ever.
LEARNING-FOCUSED / INNOVATION FOCUSED
There were a lot of sessions and a lot of exposition pitches focused on the future and new technology that will propel new customer experiences. It seems as though the large retailers are truly focused on finding the customer experiences that combine digital, in-person and omnichannel (both at the same time) in order to increase the value of their brands to consumers continuously. One of the best sessions that captures this sens of expanding customer experienced was NEiman – Marcus CEO Geoffroy van Raemdonck on what he referred to as “Integrative Customer Relationships.” Here’s a fantastic article from NRF” summarizing this session and it is well worth a complete read. But if you need one summary takeaway point it is this: Increase value to consumers and gain their long term trust through immersive experiences and human interactions together
“The conversation also touched on the ongoing importance of stores and the immersive experiences they provide. “At the end of the day, we are all social creatures,” van Raemdonck said. “We want interactions. We want to touch the product. We want the advice.”
E-COMMERCE NOTE: THE OPPORTUNITY FOR MACH ALLIANCE
Mach Alliance continues to impress its value on members of the e-commerce and retail communities. Quite simply if you are a developer, team member of an SI or merchant thinking progressively about the customer experience Mach Alliance is for you. In layperson terms, the Mach Alliance is dedicated to helping organizations make technology decisions that improve the customer experience through digital speed and performance. And it’s true. Many architectures in e-commerce are getting bogged down with a lot of integrations and rich experiences, all of which together can impact digital experience negatively.
Mach Alliance is pushing architectures like our own headless collective and inviting organizations to adopt their principles for development and business organization. And they probably had the best hand out at the show! Formatted like a trail map, it explained the journey and trail map to success with MachAlliance. They also hosted an offsite “The Mach House” where a lot of the e-commerce community could be found outside of the Javitz.
THE BOTTOM LINE
NRF is not an event to miss. Even if the badge price is steep and you can’t qualify for a reasonably priced badge as a merchant, media member or holding company you can gain access to events around the show and wander around the Javitz lobby to meet people and conduct meetups with attendees. But the exposition floor is a scene to be seen, and a great indicator of what’s going to happen in the retail and e-commerce world for the rest of the year.
If you have a focused strategy as a software provider or platform provider it’s a great conference to invest in. Our PIM partner, Pimberly, a globally-focused PIM provider had a fantastic show and met with a number of global retailers / e-commerce merchants. (Awesome product by the way, should you be considering adding PIM to your e-commerce operation this year!)