2019 marks my third year attending the NRF Big Show. I’ve been to enough shows to have an informed opinion but few enough that it still feels new — Goldilocks-approved!

A few quick impressions:

  • China and Brazil are making headlines. NRF says 99 countries were represented in its 37,000 attendees this year. While it’s been a trade show for global retail professionals long before I began attending, 2019 marked Alibaba’s NRF debut (to discuss its Hema/Freshippo grocery store and its New Retail vision). And, like previous years, Brazil was the largest international attendee contingent. It was great to see the largest eCommerce markets in APAC and LatAm so visible at the event this year.
  • Operational improvements are back in vogue (thank goodness!). You may recall Forrester urging retailers to focus digital store investment on operations-focused tech for more measurable impact on customer experiences. It appears the booth holders took this advice to heart in crafting their pitches this year. While flashy presentations were commonplace, I was pleased to hear more demonstrations couched in operational benefits — such as associate empowerment and inventory control — than I’d heard in years past.
  • The “digital store” is still mostly inspirational/aspirational. A few of us on the retail research team took a morning to do store visits. It was a great reality check. Even in the New York flagship stores, digital enhancements are rare or clunky, and retail “theaters” leave much to be desired. We’ve got a long way to go to deliver on the promise of the experiences being displayed in the booths.

Did you see anything show-stopping? What would you like to see at future events?