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As I make it through Blizzard 2016 in the Washington DC metro area, I reflect back on my 4 days in New York for the National Retail Federation Big Show:

  • Super Saturday was a highlight as always. Great presentations by Congo Voice and Thrive in Joy (Dominican Republic). Emotional performance by country music singer Jimmy Wayne who was raised as a foster kid and now has a mission to raise awareness and money for foster kids across the US – check out his inspirational TED talk! As many of you know, my two trips to Honduras have been life-changing events and I’m looking forward to another Retail Orphan Initiative trip this summer. 

  • For the second year in a row, the Expo floor opened on Sunday and the traffic on the floor was fantastic. Lots of energy and buzz in the SAP booth around the showcases which included the

  • Connected Customer, the popular Digital Boardroom, and the Imagination Zone. In the Big Ideas sessions, we heard from Harry & David on supply chain orchestration in the gourmet gifts arena and Maui Jim on their B2B digital transformation. Over the 3 days, 23 presentations packed the Presentation Theatre with hundreds of attendees.

The NRF Board of Directors meeting drove home some key points about the shopping experience – both from my discussions with the CEOs as well as presentations throughout the meeting. A personalized and relevant shopping experience is now the norm in expectations by customers. 

    • But there is now an emergence of one step further on this experience – the creation of a good “memory” from the experience – engaging the “emotions” of the customer. In other words, the product may be used up or need to be replaced, but the “memory” of the experience can’t be taken away. In today’s challenging economy, this is becoming more and more important. 

    • The challenge for us as Retailers is how to create this memorable experience. In fact, the Harvard Business School is now working with Pauline Brown (former chairman of LVMH) to create a class on the “Aesthetics of Retail”. To hear Pauline tell it, she really enjoys fine dining and the food and service is impeccable, but the “noise” of the majority of restaurants creates an experience that is less than expected. It’s all the senses that need to be positively impacted in the shopping experience.

    • In my discussions with a luxury UK brand that I believe has one of the best clienteling capabilities in the industry (powered by SAP HANA) – it even includes the type of water and croissants that you prefer. For this brand, if a store associate has to leave the customer for 5 minutes to find the product in the store that the customer is wanting, then they believe the “best-in-class” experience has been lost.

    • The other theme I heard throughout my many CIO meetings during the event was making sure the “basics” are in place in order to innovate – not only having a digital foundation, but connecting all the pieces in real-time, including the basics like inventory management and ensuring that the data is accurate, complete, and easy to access. Beyond connecting the value chain in real-time, the CIOs were intrigued by the infinite innovation opportunities of a digital transformation where they can reimagine shopper engagement, retail processes and business models. 

  • And, of course, I have to mention the final highlight – the NRF Gala on Sunday night. This event is a who’s who in Retail but the purpose is to raise money for students in Retail, including scholarships as you can see from this inspiring video.

A great way to kick off the year! I look forward to an amazing 2016 and please do visit the SAP NRF Resource Center to access keynotes, theater presentations, and videos from NRF 2016.

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