Data, Security and Ghosts … Reflections on NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show

Despite the challenge of networking and conversing for three days behind an N95 mask, it was amazing to be a part of a real, live, in-person event again. The Woolpert team attended NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show in New York City recently and, even though the show’s attendance took a disappointing but not unexpected hit, the experience proved to be an inspiring opportunity to meet clients and learn from partners across the retail space.

Many industries have suffered greatly due to COVID, with employee shortages and safety requirements becoming lasting challenges that will continue to demand creative answers. However, many within the retail industry are using this time to find new opportunities to evolve and grow—from online footprint to curbside logistics. During the show, traditional brands and emerging vendors shared stories and innovative ideas on how we can all benefit from many of these solutions.

With Great Data Comes Great Responsibility
If you are holding back from “opting in” to marketing requests or are concerned about your public profile, you are not alone. Everyone seems to want your data. What we like, wear, buy and even what we eat are valuable data points in the retail industry. While it is no longer possible to remain completely anonymous, surging online shopping and virtual experiences have generated a better understanding of consumers and what they want.

Retailers who have risen to the challenge in this contactless era use data to streamline the consumer experience, create customized suggestions and replicate in-person interactions. During the show, my colleague Nick Miceli and I saw grocery chains leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict promotions and buying patterns, with numerous vendors sharing how they are using data to improve communications with their retail clients and how technology solutions can add insights to drive better customer service.

For retailers, finding the right data and solutions to strengthen your brand is key, and consumers may be reluctant to share information with you if there is no return on their trust. Consumers are looking for businesses that can create better, safer and more customized experiences with support—even if it means a little less privacy.

Don’t Forget to Lock Up
Massive data creates massive security challenges. Retailers made news for security breaches prior to COVID, but there will undoubtedly be a bigger wave ahead due to the spiking web and app usage over the last couple years. Smart retailers take these threats seriously, especially when it comes to customer and confidential corporate data.

A growing trend seen across the NRF show was the focus on identity. Knowing who accesses a specific website, how users behave and what to do when fraud is suspected can prevent immense losses. The trick to achieving this proactive approach is balance. Although consumers and retailers want protection, they do not want hassle. Creating a safe and easy-to-access environment is key.

The rapid adoption of cloud technology is creating new issues for IT teams. Retail organizations must deploy new customer solutions quickly to survive, and with the swipe of a corporate credit card most cloud providers make that possible. Organizations of all kinds are finding that implementing a strong foundation of security, identity and best practices is critical to their cloud health.

I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts
Does eating in a ghost kitchen or hanging out in a totally dark store sound like something you’d like to avoid? The good news is that these are real retail concepts that consumers don’t actually visit. Retail’s Big Show had plenty to share about these very unspooky trends.

Ghost kitchens caught on when restaurant dine-in traffic froze. As diners looked for better take-out and delivery options, ghost kitchens offered an answer. Essentially, businesses could provide kitchen-only solutions that were geographically convenient and much more cost-effective to operate. Further, existing traditional restaurants could rent out their unused kitchen capacity to support smaller or up-and-coming ghost kitchen concept brands.

On the retail/grocery side, dark stores are addressing increasing supply and delivery challenges. Dark stores are automated, leveraging robotics and technology to select items from shelves, package deliveries and prepare orders. Previously only available in large warehouse environments, dark stores may proliferate in areas with staff shortages or real estate challenges.

TLDR: While COVID created difficult-to-predict challenges, retailers open to adopting new technologies are thriving. Consumer requirements may never go back to pre-COVID normal, but through the adoption of cloud, automation and data solutions in the retail experience, everyone can win.

Alec Berger

Alec Berger is a senior account executive with Woolpert’s Google Cloud team, working out of the firm’s Denver office. He has more than 21 years of sales and management experience with a specialization in geospatial data, partnership development and team building.