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

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

Uli Heidler profile picture

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!  

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