NRF’s Big Show is always one of the highlights of the retail calendar, but this year’s event felt especially significant. As well as being a chance to catch up with old friends and network with other businesses, it was also an opportunity to reflect on two years of intense disruption.
COVID-19 affected everyone, but retailers had a different experience to most. As the Chairman of NRF’s board of directors Mike George said in his opening speech, “The pandemic put the world on hold, but retail never stopped.” Above all, it was this spirit of perseverance that marked NRF 2022.
The future looks bright
We were proud to be representing the UK on such a prestigious stage, and we wanted to make the most of the opportunity. We spent the weekend cramming in as much as possible, meeting business owners from around the world and demonstrating the power of VoCoVo to everyone who passed our booth.
But NRF isn’t just about promotion. It’s also a chance to learn from the experts. We attended speeches by industry leaders, including Ralph Lauren CEO Patrice Louvet and Target CEO Brian Cornell. These were especially heartening, as both emphasised the importance of physical retail in their future plans.
Both men acknowledged that omnichannel purchases had surged since the pandemic, but neither saw this as a threat to in-store shopping. Instead, they argued that it made physical retail more important than ever. If customers are opting for the omnichannel route rather than simply buying online, it suggests that there are some aspects of in-store shopping that they don’t want to give up. It is up to retailers to identify these and make them the focus of their efforts.
Omnichannel has also given stores an important new role- that of collection points for online orders. The rise of Click & Collect will keep physical retail going for years to come, as long as stores can find ways to streamline the process. For these reasons, both Ralph Lauren and Target have invested in new stores during the pandemic.
Our time to shine
To see such prominent companies putting their faith in physical retail is extremely encouraging. Not only does it suggest a bright future for retail in general, but also for the kind of customer experience that we aim to provide. We spent the pandemic helping stores to improve their service through better communication. If customer behaviour follows the predictions of Ralph Lauren and Target, this could be the key to success:
- Call points can be placed on Click & Collect desks. This allows customers to check on the status of their order without joining the main queue. It also means that there is no need to man the desk between customers, allowing colleagues to get on with other tasks.
- Headsets let you find information for customers at the push of a button. Rather than leaving the customer’s side to check on an order, you can stay with them while you call through to the stockroom. This speeds up service, meaning that omnichannel customers won’t feel let down by the in-store experience.
- Colleagues can use their headsets to authorise self-checkout purchases remotely. This speeds up the checkout process significantly, again allowing you to keep pace with online shopping.
We left New York feeling optimistic. With major companies investing in physical retail, it seems that there are better days ahead for the high street. However, we must recognise that the role of stores has changed. Customers no longer make a distinction between online and physical shopping, and neither should we. By using VoCoVo to speed up in-store processes, you can give customers a consistent experience across all channels.