An Optimistic Kickoff to 2018
Retail’s “Big Show” at Jacob Javits Center in New York has been an annual must-attend event for retailers and those involved in the retail ecosystem for most of the 100+ years since its 1911 inception. However, since the Great Recession of 2008 and the subsequent retail disruption/apocalypse (call it what you will), the tenor at this event has been as cold as the January wind howling across the adjacent Hudson River. This year there was a marked difference. While too early to judge the overall impact of consumer migration to digital plus weak mall traffic and an over-stored environment, a strong holiday season (up 5.5 percent year over year) and positive macro factors had the 36.500 attendees in better spirits than I’ve witnessed in the last 10 years.
First of all, the content changed and better reflected the forward thinking required of retailers today who want to be viable tomorrow. While the big stage had retail and media legends that spoke to change, including Walmart’s Doug McMillon, Arianna Huffington, and Levi’s’ James “JC” Curleigh, the really interesting conversations were at the NRF’s Innovation Lab. The energy was tangible among the 45 or so startups and on the Innovation Lab Stage where 15 sessions focused on innovative technologies, consumer expectations, and collaborations that are transforming retail. Over 4,500 people attended the Lab to get a taste of the excitement and optimism of change agents shaping the future.
NRF’s Innovation Lab consisted of two exhibit areas; Retail 2020, which showcased 25 technologies transforming the shopping journey (from awareness and consideration to engagement and post-purchase) and the Emerging Technologies Showcase, curated by NRF’s Innovative Partner, XRC Labs’ founder, Pano Anthos, where 22 very early stage startups offered promising technologies for the future of retail. During a tour of both areas, Pano spoke to the promise of the Emerging Technologies. “Funding and the implementation timeline are unknown for emerging technologies. The ideas are good, the technologies still unproven. Whether these startups will see these ideas to their fruition in the marketplace is unknown. We do like these technologies though, they are pushing the envelope, the technology will survive and if not these particular startups, then others” Pano stated. He should know. XRC Labs is a NYC-based innovation accelerator Pano founded in 2015, sponsored by Kurt Salmon, Parsons School of Design at the New School as well as a number of retailers and brands, and designed to unite entrepreneurs and investors to create the next generation of retail.
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