NRF 2023 Recap: The Next Generation Retail Experience

John Canzonere

No commercial sector has the power to radically change our communities like retail.

The 113th annual convention of the National Retail Federation, NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show, packed in over 175 sessions, more than 350 speakers, and 1,000 exhibitors during the three-day event. In collaboration with Google Cloud, Woolpert Digital Innovations discovered new inspiration, new tech, and new partnerships that will translate into breakthrough ideas in retail.

We’ve compiled some key takeaways from major retailers about how tech, culture, and differentiation are helping them succeed, along with what was new at this year’s show.

Digital Twins On Trend

Digital twins (digital representations of physical things) are becoming common practice in retail. Kroger offered a great example of how digital twins can generate a better customer experience. Kroger Vice President of Technology Transformation and Research & Development, Wesley Rhodes spoke about his most recent project using this technology. His team used artificial intelligence models to replicate the front of the store and checkout processes with the goal of making shopping more efficient and enjoyable for customers. Once the reusable, repeatable models are complete, they will be applied to various parts of the store and connected by AI. This use of digital twins will help track products and demand, ensure better customer service, reduce labor costs, manage shrink, optimize supply chains, and much more.  

Edge computing is another exciting aspect of digital twins and Google Cloud in retail. Sometimes, it isn’t possible to host all data in the cloud when quick computations are needed. Wesley discussed how they’re applying edge computing to address this challenge at Kroger. Retail locations don’t always have high-speed connectivity, so it makes sense to use edge computing, especially when cameras and imaging are involved. Edge computing enables stores to perform calculations where their data is stored, and only insights are exported into the cloud. This is where Google Distributed Cloud comes in. Google Distributed Cloud taps into infrastructure that delivers the highest levels of performance, availability, and security, while Anthos, running on Google-managed hardware at the edge location, provides a services platform to run applications securely and remotely. Using Google Distributed Cloud, customers can migrate or modernize applications and process data locally with Google Cloud services. 

Fueling Fulfillment with Data

Disruptions in supply chains are beginning to stabilize and companies are looking to make smart investment decisions to ensure they keep pace with changing consumer expectations. Elements of this consumer evolution were shared during several breakout sessions highlighting companies that empower support teams to make data-driven decisions. For example, Quiet Platforms (a wholly-owned subsidiary of AEO, Inc.), shared insights about creating an open-source supply chain platform to help simplify retailers’ logistics and delivery networks. To implement these decisions, data must be used to inform decisions at the shipment level and to ensure that the best decision is made for each parcel in terms of cost, quality, and delivery commitment.

Improving the E-Commerce Experience

Retailers are incorporating online shopping into their omnichannel strategies on a larger scale. On the exhibition floor, various companies offered more immersive online experiences through augmented reality, digital avatars, and 360-degree product images.

For example, Toshiba and Wayfair presented a session on digital transformation to create fully connected and adaptable retail experiences.

There was a significant interest in new approaches to order tracking (directly from the retailer) and embedding routes from current locations to the sites of specific items of interest. Many companies are looking for ways to improve satisfaction by reducing friction throughout the delivery process. Delivery has become an extension of their brand, so new solutions like address validation, a service designed to reduce expensive re-delivery attempts, were also topics of interest.

Bringing Geospatial Intelligence to Brands

Using geospatial intelligence can improve both online and offline shopping by, displaying local inventory, speeding up checkout, and bringing in new features like appointment booking. With technology like Google Maps Platform and Google Cloud, companies can now take retail innovation to the next level. Building a custom solution can make the customer’s shopping experience easier and more engaging than ever. 

For example, Samsung presented many new technologies that enable brick-and-mortar retailers to use data to create more personalized shopping experiences and immersive advertising in-store.

Final Thoughts

Data continues to drive big decisions in the retail space. Companies are starting to invest in bigger, better, and faster analytics. Google Cloud uses Google’s core infrastructure, data analytics, and machine learning to build what’s next for your business. Many C-suite speakers described common initiatives including digital twins for efficient planning and improved customer experience, overcoming supply chain disruptions, and how e-commerce is still gaining traction and popularity over traditional brick-and-mortar stores. With the right technology for logistics needs, such as address validation and geospatial intelligence, consumers can also now take advantage of better choices, lower costs, and more customization options.

Many top brands, including Ulta Beauty, the Home Depot, and 7-Eleven, use Google Cloud for their retail solutions. With Google Cloud, retailers can power their e-commerce operations with reliability, scalability, and flexibility. This enables them to deliver growth through frictionless customer experiences.  

NRF’s 2023 Retail’s Big Show showcased retailers’ innovation and determination, a sign that despite the challenges the industry faces, there are great things to come. We’re looking forward to seeing what next year’s expo has in store.

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