Year after year, the NRF Conference & Expo has provided a pulse on the changing retail landscape, offering invaluable insights and serving as a connecting hub for industry leaders, and we were excited to be part of the conversation last week in NYC.
From AI and IoT to the store and restaurants of the future, this year’s NRF was abuzz with conversations about the biggest trends reshaping the industry. We invited our experts and customers to lead some of these conversations, with sessions on “smart” store technologies, reimagining customer and employee experiences, and the critical relationship between brands and the communities they serve. For the very first time, we also participated in the Foodservice Innovation Zone, which was an interactive exploration of the technologies that are transforming the customer food service experience.
Here are our top takeaways from NRF 2024:
1. An Eye on The Store of the Future
CX is at the heart of everything retail and food services brands do. The “store of the future” is a concept that represents a new era in retail, where physical and digital experiences are seamlessly merged. Advanced, customer-facing technologies are used not just to enhance the shopping experience, but also to streamline backend operations, creating a more efficient and engaging retail environment.
As a host of new digital touchpoints emerge — mobile ordering, digital menus, IoT technologies, contactless payment — connectivity and security must be at the core of every restaurant’s digital transformation strategy. In our booth at NRF, we recreated “store of the future” innovations and demonstrated how reliable connectivity, advanced WiFi, IoT, and managed solutions power business innovation for both front-of-house and back-of-house impact.
2. Data and AI Will Push Everyone Forward
There’s no doubt: AI is going to help retailers deliver better customer experiences, personalize those experiences, and give employees new “powers” to do their jobs. How we all get there is still a work in progress. Digital infrastructure — bandwidth, cloud-based networking and apps, edge and cloud computing, and security — will all need to be rethought to support the AI revolution.
Making sense of all the data at the disposal of businesses will also be a top task for AI. From WiFi analytics and IoT monitoring to digital kiosks and customer devices, retail and food service locations are a wellspring of real-time data. Emerging leaders in the space will increasingly be those that turn mountains of data into actionable products and services.
3. Employee Experience is Critical to Customer Experience
No longer is customer experience the only star in the retail sky. Employee experience is emerging as a leading concern for brands and their IT teams.
Technologies like AI-enabled voice assistants will complement the human interactions customers have with employees. Meanwhile, smart technologies and analytics will increasingly be used to automate repetitive tasks (inventory, temperature checks), with aims of improving employee experience and efficiency.
It’s a trend line we’ve been following closely. We led two related sessions at NRF 2024: during the session “How Taco Bell reimagines customer and employee experiences with technology” panelists spoke on how prioritizing employee experience yields positive impact across the business, including improved customer service, operations, and critical employee retention in a challenging labor market. In a separate session, “’Outsmarting’ every corner of the store: A conversation with Georgia Pacific,” experts testified to today’s tech-savvy employees having expectations similar to customers, with connected, convenient, and seamless experiences at every turn.
4. The Food Services Industry Won’t Slow Down
Covid spurred many restaurant brands to pivot their business models and accelerate digital transformation. That pace of transformation is only expected to continue, with an unyielding focus on consumer convenience and delight.
At NRF 2024, many conversations centered on how the swath of digital touchpoints can all be stitched into an end-to-end guest experience (mobile apps, drive-thru, digital ordering, etc.) The "Foodservice Innovation Zone" served as an interactive exploration of what this could look like now and in the future, even serving pizza and burgers made by AI robots — with connectivity powered by Comcast Business and IoT powered by Machine Q.
5. Powering Community Connections
In rural and underserved locations, retailers often serve as fixtures of communities. And with consumers expecting personalized service at every turn, technology and innovation have never been more critical to driving best-in-class customer experiences and delivering on consumers’ needs.
In a session titled, “How Dollar General serves their communities with reimagined technology and media,” we explored how the national retailer is bringing digital transformation, technology innovations, and a retail media network to thousands of stores and countless customers around the country.
Powering Retail Possibilities
NRF was a valuable opportunity to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry and connect with other innovators. If one theme emerged from all the learnings, it’s that there’s no shortage of ideas and innovations in this space. Selecting the right solutions to implement and doing so at scale to power real business outcomes will be the competitive differentiator.
At Comcast Business, we partner with forward-thinking retailers to help connect with customers and power operations. Our EcoConnect program harnesses our expansive ecosystem of new and emerging technologies that push the boundaries of the retail experience. From eye-catching video advertisements in grocery stores, to creative solves for long lines at amusement parks, EcoConnect empowers brands through elevated brand storytelling and consumer engagement. It’s the kind of unparalleled partnership that can transform how retailers show up in the market.
Learn more about how Comcast Business is helping retailers leverage technology to power customer and employee experiences: business.comcast.com/retail
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