Our takeaways from NRF 2023: the future of technology in retail

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Ulrike Heidler

Last week, we attended one of the most anticipated trade shows in the retail industry, hosted by The National Retail Federation (NRF) at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. NRF 2023 featured a large number of sessions, speakers, and networking opportunities, to discuss the latest trends in the retail industry across a variety of topics, focusing on digital transformation and the omnichannel customer experience. 

The theme of the show was “Break Through,” a generally broad topic that did, however, consistently feature the same messaging points. Here are our key takeaways: 

Strong emphasis on a seamless online and in-store experience 

A truly cohesive experience, free of individual silos, is needed for brands. However, it seems that there is a surprisingly high demand for the in-store experience, even after the pandemic-era convenience that shoppers got used to, especially with delivery. Despite the decline of shopping malls, customers seem to have a high appetite to mingle and meet again, and to physically interact with products, making the most of the shopping experience — the "buy now" button just isn't cutting it anymore! It also appears that curbside pickup will decrease but not go away.  

The need for “frictionless” experiences 

I can’t say how often we heard the term “frictionless” across all topics! Even regarding the grocery in-store checkout experience – everything needs to be frictionless. Customers now expect, more than ever before, to receive high-value and highly-entertaining experiences. Offering a frictionless experience from first touch to long after the last purchase has ended has the potential to provide the elevated VIP experience necessary to create long lasting customer-brand relationships.  


Speaking of “in-store”, automation (and digitalization) was a big topic. We heard about the need for more automated processes (cashier-less stores, inventory-aware/-managing robots, automated-stocking, etc.) It looks like the future will bring automation almost everywhere, with even fewer human interactions – including across warehouses, logistics, and even restaurants. 

Using data-driven insights holistically  

We consistently heard about the importance of not looking at analytics just for the in-store or just the online experiences, but looking at them together as a complete picture and, based on that, improving that experience. For example, empowering the store clerks to know what the customer had in their cart or Wishlist during their last website visits, or more insight as to what their buying profile is, would provide the experts in the store with everything needed to provide the expended VIP experience.  

Similarly, a high focus was on the importance of data and analytics for internal processes. Data-driven investments, data-driven personalization and testing, data-driven advertisement — you get the picture! Allow yourselves to try things and maybe fail — but always learn from it, because you have the data to prove success. Or the lack of it. 


Customers are being careful with spending, and certain new trends emerged. People with higher budgets continue to spend their money, but are spending more on online shopping than ever before. Customers with smaller budgets scaled down across all purchases and became a lot more careful with their spending. However, the general outlook appeared to be that people felt somewhat gloomier, and became more careful about medium to large spending.  

The big picture

All in all, we saw a very dynamic and international crowd, with many interesting vendors and creative (and interactive) booths! It looks like the emphasis on consistent and connected omnichannel experiences, store optimization, and logistics, alongside a general shift to be more data-driven, will be a topic to come for many years. It will be very interesting to see how the customer experience, across online and in-store, as well as the relationship between brands and their customers, will evolve over time.  

Until next year!  

Stage 1: Fragmented: Multiple Channels

You’re a digital dinosaur!

You have a beautiful website, but with fragmented digital experiences, you run the risk of extinction.

It’s time to evolve.

Your audiences want a seamless experience, no matter what's happening behind the scenes. When your experience is different or difficult, it’s important to start with the basics, such as cultivating a holistic approach to online digital experiences. Realign your teams, platforms, processes, goals, and metrics around a comprehensive view of the online experience. Focus on the end-to-end customer journey cutting across channels, desktop and mobile.

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Stage 2: Integrated: Multiple channels

You’re a fish!

Signs of exciting life are starting to form. Your DX is responsive and adaptive but it’s not quite personalized yet.

Keep swimming!

The integration of your brand content across every touchpoint (website, online store, social media, emails, apps, point of sale) creates immersive experiences. These flagship sites combine content-rich brand experiences with immediate conversion capabilities. Business teams and marketing are closely aligned. However, while the digital experience is responsive and adaptive, it’s not yet personalized.

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Stage 3: Instant: Global expansion

You’re a crocodile!

You’re taking it global. Speed and scalability are key and just like a crocodile, you’re fast…but you’re clumsy.

Oh snap!

In this stage, the online digital experience becomes completely dynamic. You need content that is global, yet relevant, with plenty of local insights: Who is the user? Are they using a mobile phone? Is it raining where they are? Is it snowing? If it is, maybe they need warm, waterproof boots. All of this contextualized information creates a better user experience. With one global orchestration, you’re able to adapt everything, in whatever country or language you choose – while keeping turnaround times low. So keep evolving.

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Stage 4: Dynamic: Real time personalization

You’re a lion!

You’re reaching more customers in more countries and languages than ever before, and now you’re finally hunting and collecting info with precision.

But you can do more to keep your brand roaring!

As you graduate to the Instant level, you’re able to rapidly update everything - not just in one language and for one country, but in 20 languages and for 100 countries. Speed and scalability are key, driven by the need to roll out global campaigns in all languages and all touchpoints and make updates in minutes or hours, not weeks. But there’s still more to do to reach nirvana.

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Stage 5: Immersive: Elevated experiences

You’re Captain Content!

You’ve done it! You have opposable thumbs AND you’re saving the world with your seamless, elevated customer experiences.

You're a superhero in the digital space.

Your digital world and your physical world are blending together in the most complementary way possible. When shoppers visit your store, they’ll be greeted with their pre-selected products. Language changes dynamically depending on country of origin – it's like the whole store was set up just for your one specific customer.

In this final stage, your customer experience is truly immersive and superior, and your flagship store merges your physical and digital world into one, with a truly personalized individual experience.

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