Talent, Tech and the Personal Touch: Recapping Themes from NRF 2017

Another year of Retail’s BIG Show is in the books. Three days of keynotes and exhibit hall conversations about the industry’s most pressing obstacles and opportunities inevitably leave retail executives and vendors with plenty of food for thought.

This year, despite the show’s emphasis on emerging tech (from artificial intelligence to augmented and virtual reality), the human element of running a retail business was very much in the spotlight. In a departure from previous show agendas, most of the 2017 sessions echoed the importance of improving the employee experience, and its direct influence on the customer experience.

Here’s a quick recap of what stuck with us most from NRF 2017:

  • Workforce Sustainability Demands New Investments: The IT skills gap isn’t the only labor shortage plaguing employers. Setting the tone for the entire event, one of the show’s first keynotes brought together top leadership to discuss attracting and retaining retail employees. Though the sector is projected to grow by almost one million jobs by 2022, today’s hiring cannot keep pace with tomorrow’s workforce needs. Across the board, employers and the National Retail Foundation are turning to more robust training and education as the solution. CEOs from Walmart, Macy’s and Ashley Stewart discussed their organizations’ renewed focus on formal training not only for store associates, but ongoing learning for upper management as well. During this panel discussion, NRF unveiled its RISE Up initiative, a credentialing program aimed at helping entry-level job seekers land and develop retail careers.
  • The Human Touch Still Matters: Trends in data analytics, disruption and the “connected” in-store experience commanded ample air time during the three-day conference, but many speakers championed the personal side of retail. A breakout session led by Brent Ridge, founder of New York-based mercantile Beekman 1802, focused on the power of “person to person” retail, touching on how store managers need to get out of the back room and model the kind of empathetic behavior they want their staff to exemplify. A similar session about the in-store experience urged retailers to view their associates as brand ambassadors, whose loyalty and deep product knowledge can turn a one-time sale into a long-term customer. This renewed focus on the human factor is part of the changing nature of retail as businesses look to offer higher touch, emotional customer experiences from their stores. There is no question, to make this happen, they need engaged associates.
  • Technology Can Amplify Front Line Effectiveness: In the face of warring forces – the retail industry’s need for skilled store associates and its current labor gaps – more retailers are arming workers with digital tools to promote happier, more competent staff. As sessions across the EXPO hall demonstrated, putting the right technology in associates’ hands not only enhances front line productivity and engagement – it produces business results at the corporate level too. Shell Retail took to the stage to explain how investing in employee engagement technology with WorkJam is allowing Shell to create the digital workplace and enabling them to dramatically improve global campaign execution, communication, staff retention and overall productivity and profitability.

Retail has and always will be a people business. At WorkJam, we’re excited to help more retailers use technology to grow their businesses by supporting and engaging the people that matter most in 2017 and beyond: their employees.