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Day 2 Takeaways from NRF: Sir Richard Branson Embraces the Disruption of Retail

Gina Ashe, CEO
by Gina Ashe, CEO
Tuesday, January 17, 2017

After day two of the National Retail Federation’s annual conference at New York’s Javits Center, it’s clear why they call this retail’s “Big Show.” The day was filled with big conversation around industry disruption, new types of automation and groundbreaking customer service tactics. The day’s main speaker, Sir Richard Branson, even had some big suggestions: go kitesurfing in the British Virgin Islands (and other, more relevant things, too). Other speakers talked about new ways to capture customer data...in the company of robots.

In case you missed it, here are three big takeaways from retail’s innovators, experts and pioneers:

1. Embracing Disruption: The Pros of Change

Disruption was everywhere in NRF on Monday and Sir Richard Branson is, unsurprisingly, a proponent of it. When disruption reared it’s ugly head and decimated the music store market, Branson used it as an opportunity to spin-off more successful Virgin franchises.

“When the writing was on the wall for music retail, we decided we don’t have to stay a retailer just because we’re a retailer,” Branson recalled to his audience. “We looked at what products were selling well in our stores.” And that was the start of Virgin’s phone company.

According to Branson, Virgin Mobile surpassed any success his retail stores could have surmounted. He encouraged attendees to find their entrepreneurial spirit and develop new ways for in-store retail to thrive during ecommerce disruption.

2. Data Capture: The Key to Improving Consumer Experience

Even though foot traffic in-store has experienced a dip, intent to purchase in brick-and-mortars is on the rise. That means it’s crucial for stores to be stocked to meet this demand. However, consumers still cite “out of stock” and “couldn’t find my item” as top barriers to purchase.

Intel has partnered with Levi Strauss to create a responsive retail platform to mitigate this challenge. It’s a 360 degree data capture in real time, and inventory accuracy is one of the many functions. With the help of RFID tags and sensors, stores have a better idea of what is selling out and can make changes to the supply chain to insure that products are available to customers.

Carrie Ask, Executive Vice President and President of Global Retail at Levi’s, explained that the platform allows store teams to shift their focus from inventory to customer service. And that customer service contributes to a more positive overall experience—one that keeps customers coming back.

3. Know the Outliers: Gen Z

Move over Millennials, there’s a new generation of tech-savvy consumers entering the market: Generation Z. Between the ages of 13 to 21, they influence roughly 93 percent of household spending. So what do brands need to know about this group? For one thing, traditional television ads are irrelevant. Only 44 percent of this generation even watches TV.

“Customization is key,” said Patrick Duncan, SVP of Marketing, eCommerce and Distribution for Helzberg Diamonds. They want to be directly involved with brands, from design all the way through to product creation.

Gen Z cares about transparency and authenticity, too. Take for example Helzberg’s new My Diamond Story, a tool that allows customers to track the journey of their diamond, from mine to finger. This is the type of commitment to integrity that would appeal to the Gen Z consumer.

Check back Wednesday morning for more insights from Day 3 at NRF 2017. Until then, be sure to follow us on Twitter as we tweet live from the conference.

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