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Blog Posts2023 NRF’s Retail Big Show: Top 5 Takeaways

2023 NRF’s Retail Big Show: Top 5 Takeaways

By Gail E. Amsterdam, Founder, CEO & Chief Talent Curator, Amsterdam Associates

2023 NRF’s Retail Big Show represents the industry-leading annual retail conference and was heavily attended this year by retailers, vendors, and others alike.  It showcased some of the hottest trends retailers and brands are pursuing.  It consistently provided timely presentations of strategic initiatives stimulating competitive advantages, while heavily enabling networking among retail’s top leaders and influencers.  

If you couldn’t attend this year’s NRF Retail Big Show, we’ve crystallized its key nuggets provided by today’s top-notch leaders.  Retailers and attendees around the world heeded key trend initiatives, that the large majority of speakers stressed should have definable results on the entire retail industry. 

Personalization, artificial intelligence, and the customer were all big conversations buzzing at the 2023 NRF’s Retail Big Show.  While all important, retail continues to access their customers through every possible technological medium, but always relies on intuition as a partner to data before pulling the trigger. 

This year’s conference didn’t disappoint.  From customers placed at the forefront, to digital technology advances, to culture being front and center, these key takeaways are worth keeping on your radar. 

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Retail is still about your Brick & Mortar Stores! (integrated with digital technology)

One key theme presented was that brick & mortar stores are here to stay, supplemented by digital tech as an integrated partnership.  

What really intrigues us is how the nexus of these connections will help retailers successfully achieve some challenging business goals.  

Jeff Gennette, Chairman and CEO at Macy’s, shared that to succeed, retailers need scalable models.  While omnichannel strategy refers to, “seamless and effortless, high-quality customer experiences that occur within and between multiple channels,” technology needs to always partner with these opportunities and workflows.  By doing this, the industry will get better data science demand forecasting, and allocation science information to sell products at the right price.  

Farfetch is a marketplace and product catalog that partnered with Harrods to curate their online customer experience.  “You need to both analyze the data, and never ignore who your customer is including her total spend,” reported Michael Ward, Managing Director, Harrods.

Kelly Kowal, Chief Platform Officer at Farfetch, shared how the company replatformed Harrods business, building ecommerce partnerships with all their brands.  This included putting fundamentals in place to predict what customers will do in the future, in addition to how to understand Harrods customer trends through data analysis from the right technology solutions.  

Farfetch strived to make Harrod’s customer experience as fabulous as the in-store experience has been for them.  Knowing customers’ demographic’s specific shopping habits will be paramount to knowing what they will want tomorrow.

Whole Foods Market CEO, Jason Buechel said he’s excited to see how advancing technology will help simplify all aspects of work, so associates can engage more with the customer and have their work performed at a higher quality level.

Both strategies/tools offer new and efficient ways to make customers and employees happier. Executives across consumer, DTC, and retailers all shared their goals using these tools.  

Even restaurants have created a number of customer loyalty technology programs. Experiences providing data and analytics through mobile online apps tie them directly to the needs of their customers.  Christopher Thomas-Moore, SVP, Customer & Store Experience for Domino’s shared, “Domino’s is a technology company that sells pizza.” 

Through various forms of technology, which act as another form of real estate, restaurants can send key messages to their customers on a daily basis, which support their needs through online digital infrastructure and become a frequent platform for communication, ordering, and feedback.  The question is where and how can you best leverage technology?

It looks as if retail is aiming to access their customers through every technological medium. A central competitive advantage to connect customers digitally is to ensure convenience to them without friction.  Whether it’s with technology, AI, data science, or enabling retailers to analyze that information, “always keep in mind intuition” as Ward stated to inform your final roadmap.

2. Define your customer with personalization

Personalization is King.  Getting the fundamentals right and the customers’ trends defined in the data, will enable a multi-dimensional approach to curate the customer experience successfully online.  Paige Thomas, President and CEO at Saks OFF 5th said, “Don’t be fooled, she can change her mind on a dime”.  

Retailers need to consider all the data.  Focusing on the customer and how they engage with retailers in the store or online, helps you best know their demographic.  With a total omnichannel approach though, every touchpoint must be a total experience for the customer, not only in the store, but digitally achieving real levels of excellence and something that makes the customer say “WOW.”  

Thomas stated,  “Are we serving our customers the way we need?” “Who are your key customers and serving them properly, you’ll win,” your “Value proposition is critical,” and  “How do we win their wallet more consistently?”  

The “Answer is in the customer.” By developing an app and loyalty program, you’ll better engage with your customer on a daily basis.  Saks OFF 5th, has had over 1 1 million enrollments in less than a year by creating an online loyalty program app.  Customer engagement/experience and its journey to solve friction points solving their problems will assure customers are more committed.  This needs to be the strategy to bullet-proof your business.  

“When it comes to retail in 2023, it’s all about making the customer happy,” said Jeff Gennette.  People are spending more on experiences, and enabling retailers to respond in time to its customers will be a key piece to the puzzle.    

Kiera Fernandez, SVP and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Target, discussed that guest experiences need to be designed around deep emotional feelings to allow their guests to show up authentically and be seen, heard, and cared for.  When you care for your team first, they will care for your guests and down the line.

The customer is setting the roadmap for how retailers will provide product, experiences, efficiency, and commitment to them as 2023 unfolds through omni-channel roadmaps.

3. Flipping for Simone Biles

Everyone was buzzing about gymnastics gold-medalist Simone Biles’ keynote speech.  “Remember who you are and what you stand for,” she said. Biles believes “perseverance, power, and passion” are critical foundational beacons.  Why?

As parallel ventures, Biles talked about how sports and business are the future of retail.  After her Olympic and gymnastic chapter, her collaboration with Athleta represents her next frontier.  

Biles shared that perseverance comes from character and strength, an attitude, when applied to retail, translates into how businesses should have strong branding and connections with its customers, vendors, and marketing.

Having a reliable team partnering with you speaks to your incredible power. “If everyone does their part it comes together,” said Biles, especially when it comes to collaborating with a brand like Athleta. When everyone, whether it’s a gymnastics team or multi-billion dollar retail corporation, does their part, that’s the true power of influence. This results in much deeper, emotional connections with your team, which speaks to true power.

Without passion and inspiration at its core, business would not evolve. As a passionate, female athlete, Biles recognized a lack of inclusivity in women’s athleisure. Thus, the Athleta collaboration was born offering more accessibility to sports fashion than ever before, which created energy into the brand and with that consumer, which wasn’t previously being served. 

What we can take away from this extraordinary icon, is that as retail continues to change and evolve – despite what the market presents, perseverance, power, and passion, will always prevail if we are diligent in nurturing each of them continually.

4. Brand reposition and expansion with the metaverse

The metaverse was a key topic at this year’s NRF Retail Big Show. As ecommerce evolves further in the metaverse – many brands will be adapting and developing their business models to keep up with the kids. 

The “Versed on the Metaverse: How can brands participate in the next frontier of digital experiences?” panel between speakers from Tommy Hilfiger, Chris Takkenberg, Vice President, Digital Product, Dina Fierro, currently Senior Vice President web3/Metaverse Group at Shiseido Americas and formerly from NARS Cosmetics as Vice President, Global Digital Innovation and Strategy, and Roblox, Winnie Burke, Head of Fashion & Beauty Partnerships, was lively and more specifically referred to how brands should position themselves for the future of retail.  

Roblox platform created for Tommy Hilfiger and Shiseido Americas offered the metaverse to their consumers in an exciting and relevant way. Takkenberg mentioned that investing in virtual stores, was building ground-breaking immersive virtual experiences on a platform, and co-creating these realities by partnering with their communities. The metaverse is reaching out to targets that otherwise haven’t been served by many retailers and represents a growing market of commerce and commitment by these newly served consumers. The panel discussed how members of the retail community are advocating for standards in technology.

Dialogue around the metaverse is particularly dense. For those hungry to succeed in retail, they will need to join the conversation quickly and get up to snuff with what this all means. 

5. Qualified and accessible employees are everywhere

With diversity, inclusion, and education (DEI) on the tip of everyone’s tongue, Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO and founder at Chobani, has taken massive action globally. The audience was inspired as Ulukaya elaborated on how his company has embraced global programs to hire, train, and create communities for refugees around the world. 

To Ulukaya, it’s a missed opportunity in the retail industry and globally for a win/win.  Sure there are obstacles, so if people don’t have drivers licenses, they will schedule buses to pick them up, if there are language barriers, they will hire translators, if they need other help, they will develop solutions to serve them.  Pushing through obstacles, undoubtedly creates purpose for these people and a deeper feeling of helping our fellows.  When we bring unique diversity to the table, we contribute not only to ethnicity of course, but what we each bring uniquely about ourselves into every situation.  

At the NRF’s Retail Big Show, Ulukaya went on to say that “the retail industry is in the best position to lead resource efforts for refugees,” because “it’s usually where many of these communities first gravitate to connect with a meaningful community”. By removing these obstacles, he has seen countless examples of the most motivated and committed workforce he’s ever worked with including their having exceptional, quality skills.

Hiring refugees is one way to incorporate DE&I into retail businesses and to create a life for refugees and their families while transforming communities into vibrant ones. Considering such a timely and heartfelt topic, it’s refreshing to see Chobani’s worldwide success in such an important adaptation to culture and community.

More retail jewels soon to come.  We will be releasing several additional timely pieces on Transformation and Culture over the coming weeks.  Be sure to check out our recent article Transformational Advice from Consumer and Retail Industry Leaders to inspire your 2023 vision and roadmap.   


  • Diane Weiss

    Wow! This article has really given me an overview of how retailers have changed their multifaceted approach to sales.
    Thank you for your comprehensive review of the highlights of the NRF Retail Big Show!
    Personalization is key.

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