5 Key Takeaways From NRF 2020


After NRF 2020 wrapped up, two Hughes SMEs, Jeff Bradbury and Tim Tang, sat down to have a discussion about the new developments in the retail industry and look at how Hughes can continue to position itself as a top Managed Network Service Provider leading an industry that is rapidly evolving.

Jeff: So Tim, it is good to see we both made it back from NRF 2020. While it is an exhausting few days, it is also an amazing time and a great start to the year. The event was packed, with great sessions and conversations at every turn. One of the most surprising things about NRF this year was the weather. It was beautiful—and getting to eat lunch outside at NRF is not a common occurrence. I’m not sure that the weather was responsible for all the optimism on the show floor, but it certainly helped.

Tim: Yes Jeff, I agree. There was a great turn out for the event this year, and it was nice to see everyone taking advantage of everything the show had to offer.

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Jeff: In an attempt to capture the top 5 takeaways from NRF, what did you find particularly interesting from this year’s Big Show? 

Tim: To start, I thought the customer engagement piece was very interesting. There was the theme “Focusing on Inspiration” which really brought to light just how much retail is evolving. What once started in the store, then moved online, is now moving back to mobile. At NRF2020, I saw retail move to even earlier stages of the buying journey. Right to the moment of inspiration and aspiration. When the buyer discovers or creates an idea that she wants to make a reality in her life, retail is right beside her conveniently providing her with the ability to turn her ideas into reality.

I was also intrigued by the idea of "contextual commerce". This is when an online community is created because of common interests and then grows due to becoming connected on social media. Over time, these groups can strengthen begin to support buying interest and drive in-store engagement. Retail is evolving indeed!

What would you say your #1 takeaway was, Jeff?

Jeff: Well I was glad to hear others at NRF agree with something we’ve been saying for about 8 months now. “The brick-and-mortar remains and will be the center of the omnichannel universe for the foreseeable future…it is where the ultimate expression of a brand’s promise can be experienced.” This is where the successful brick-and-mortar stores set themselves apart, by finding a way to deliver value above and beyond what can be delivered online.

What became clear at this year’s show is that the source of this additional value is being obtained from one of two key approaches, convenience or immersive experience.

The convenience purveyors are seeking to make the store experience as fast, seamless, and frictionless as possible. Manifestations to this approach include curbside delivery/loading, frictionless checkout, in-store pickup and returns, and something again shown in the Intel booth, 3rd party storage lockers, that allowed multiple sources to fulfill orders in a single location.

The other approach is the high touch customer experience, providing a curated and deeply personalized experience based on your previous and current purchases, items in your basket or wish list, and current fashion trends all coming together to produce a series of recommendations made specifically for an individual shopper. We saw a number of these examples at NRF, including magic mirrors that applied AR to how an outfit would look on you, to radio frequency identification (RFID) tagged products that delivered a wealth of info to the buyer and brought the buyer into the design and buying experience.

The reaffirmation of brick-and-mortar and the new development of the convenient or immersive experience really excited me. What would be next on your list Tim? 

Tim: I was pleased with the network security coverage. In the area of Network Security – the topic of personalization came up in nearly every session. One could argue that retailers are collecting more data on consumer behavior than any other industry. With GDPR and CCPA, retailers must comply with new regulations. In a market where “data is the new oil,” retailers are prime targets for criminals.

The sober reality of cybersecurity in retail is that there is much to be done. The criminals are now beginning to implement basic AI/ML capabilities into their attacks, and collaborating more than ever. When the criminals work together, the only way to defeat them is for the retailers to work even more closely together. The NRF’s IT security council is an excellent starting point. Their retailers cannot only learn cybersecurity best practices from each other, they can also share real-time knowledge of active attacks and coordinate their defense.

It’s good to know that at Hughes we offer a Managed Security solution that supports retail security needs today, and as we continue to develop our MSSP suite we will continue to grow and evolve with the industry.

Jeff: You’re right, Tim. It’s really interesting to see how having a secure SD-WAN network can really play into your overall success, especially when it comes to trust from your customers. Another takeaway from NRF I had was the overall involvement of technology.

Technology was baked into the solutions, not just on its own. The emphasis was more on business outcomes, with the assumption being that the technology was in place and functioning properly.

A great example of this was the frictionless check-out example at the Intel booth. It highlighted that the multiple technologies it employed to deliver the solution and an experience like the AmazonGo store, but with far fewer devices and no custom-built technology. This was technology that could be retrofitted into any store, not purposefully built for a new store.

Tim: Right you are, Jeff. We truly have entered into an era where it is expected that technology is not the most exciting piece anymore, it is more about what we are enabled to do because of it.

My final point would probably be workforce productivity. The only way to keep up with escalating customer expectations is a similarly escalating level of employee productivity. At NRF 2020, Walmart and MIT introduced a new paradigm for retail employment, “The Good Jobs Strategy.” Four simple concepts: “Focus and Simplify”, "Standardize and empower”, "Cross-train", and “Operate with slack” have enabled companies like Walmart, Costco, and Aldi to buck the trend. They pay higher wages, the employees stay longer, and customer satisfaction increases. Innovating in retail is not just about new technologies, it’s about smart business practices.

The value of an employee is being recognized as a greater resource and greater differentiator. Moving away from dollars per labor hour (an efficiency measure) and more toward improved customer care and growth. Employees are getting more attention, greater pay, greater training, higher expectations of skills and better equipped to engage and serve the customer.

I know I’m looking forward to spending some time diving into each of these takeaways and figuring out how to use each to better enable Hughes as a continued industry-leading partner.


About the Author


Jeff Bradbury works across markets to help distributed organizations identify trends that are driving digital transformation and adopt technologies critical to connecting their customers, employees, and locations. Follow Jeff Bradbury on LinkedIn and Twitter @TechXformation.


Tim Tang

Tim Tang helps distributed organizations achieve the promise of digital transformation by sharing ideas across industries and helping customers stay ahead of the ever-increasing pace of change. Follow Tim Tang on LinkedIn and Twitter @TimTang4Retail.