5 Retail Trends to Watch at the NRF Big Show 2023

By Jeff Neville

Are you attending this year’s NRF Big Show 2023? The biggest retail event of the season kicks off in New York City January 14–17, 2023; the theme is “Break Through,” in part a reference to helping retailers overcome hard times so they can thrive

Indeed, this will be the first “normal” year back at the NRF Big Show since 2019–the beginning of some very hard times for us all.

The highlight of the conference is always the chance to have face-to-face conversations and reconnect with clients and colleagues. And as the Senior Vice President and Digital Commerce Group leader at Sophelle, I’m also eager to learn about new technologies and trends. 

Although speakers and sessions are still being announced, Sophelle has already identified five major themes for the conference that may predict the retail landscape for 2023 and beyond.

Trending Topics at the NRF Big Show 2023

1. Economic uncertainty and concerns about future consumer behavior

Several sessions at the conference consider questions related to economic instability or ask what we can expect from consumer behavior patterns going forward. 

  • The Mastercard Economics Institute will host a session that examines the state of the US economy through a credit card processing lens. I attended a similar session in a previous year, and it offered many valuable insights.
  • VTex is sponsoring a session on the profitability of e-commerce, which has become increasingly important in light of the current economic climate
  • Revionics is hosting a session on price perception that will explore how retailers can change consumers’ perspectives on cost despite pricing increases.
  • Hosted by WGSN, a Future Drivers 2025 session will explore the forces that will most significantly impact the business landscape in 2025.  

2. Sustainable commerce models

Whereas past NRF Big Show sessions have focused on the novelty of sustainable commerce, recommerce, and circular commerce models, this year’s sessions seem to be asking, “How can we ensure that these models succeed?”

Patagonia CEO Yvon Chouinard’s recent decision to “go purpose”—investing all of Patagonia’s profits in a trust dedicated to fighting climate change—will surely filter into these conversations. Yvon’s example is sure to spark some lively discussion about what it means for corporations to make meaningful investments in sustainability. 

We also expect more buzz about marketplaces that are working to promote a circular economy. At one time, many retailers shied away from such models, dismissing them as operationally daunting or cost-prohibitive. Now, these models are becoming realistic and even scalable for general retail. 

3. The changing role of the store 

Once strictly a point-of-sale environment, the physical store must now serve as an experiential touchpoint. Several sessions at the NRF Big Show 2023 ask how we might adapt the brick-and-mortar store to be more than a place for cash-and-carry transactions.

  • A session on the “store of the future” will explore ways that retailers can optimize their physical stores to attract, engage, and retain customers.
  • Retail redefined: 2023 and beyond will consider what retailers can expect from consumers post-pandemic and how commerce will evolve in the coming year. 

Grab-and-go payment options, which enable in-store shoppers to skip the checkout line, are also likely to figure into these conversations. Is it worthwhile for retailers to invest in the technology that powers such platforms when there are so many unknowns about consumer behavior in the years ahead?

Although grab-and-go payment may be the wave of the future, it also opens retailers up to a host of potential problems:

  • Increased theft from cash-strapped customers
  • Resistance from older consumers who aren’t comfortable with the technology
  • A significant investment in IT to develop software and provide tech support
  • A continuing need for staffing to provide in-store assistance

We look forward to hearing where our colleagues weigh in on these and other issues related to the evolution of brick-and-mortar stores.

4. Staffing and labor in the retail environment

The duties of retail staff are expanding to include serving as brand ambassadors. A session titled The great reshuffle: Building and sustaining a dynamic frontline workforce will discuss how retailers can better recruit, train, and engage team members in these newly conceived roles.

We’re also likely to see conference sessions address the polarization of retail workforces in the wake of COVID-19. Post-pandemic, many retail employees who work in corporate offices have continued working from home, whereas store employees and managers must work onsite. Retailers must find ways to better enfranchise their in-store workforces in the wake of this new point of division. 

5. The personalization chasm

Personalization through omnichannel digital marketing is a must for today’s retailers, but not all personalization strategies are created equal. Dick’s Sporting Goods will host a session on personalization to share insights on developing a highly successful, customer-centric digital marketing campaign.

Dick’s is not the only retailer to crack the code on personalization–others have done so as well; often in unorthodox ways. Amazon, for instance, has achieved a conversion rate of 12-15% by completely rejecting industry best standards and focusing only on the buying habits of their own customers. 

Google Chrome will also be a part of the conversation; the web browser has announced a plan to phase out online cookies by the end of 2023. To ensure a robust personalization strategy, retailers will need alternative methods for obtaining customer’ purchase history data on this leading platform.

More don’t-miss NRF 2023 sessions

Last but not least, there are several additional sessions that don’t fit into one of the 5 big trends but look to be standouts nonetheless: 

  • A session on the metaverse that will explore connections between retail and gaming
  • A CIO fireside chat about the future of technology in retail
  • An Innovation Lab showcase for start-ups. This year’s participants haven’t yet been announced, but this session is always worthwhile. One year, it featured a company making dresses with a 3D printer. 
  • New this year is a consumer product showcase. In the past, NRF has featured only B2B vendors that sell to retailers, but this year they’ll feature a group of vendors that actually sell to consumers.

And don’t forget the opportunity to try out some of New York’s finest food trucks at the conference! There’s nothing better than talking retail trends with colleagues while sampling the local fare. 

See you there!

Want to meet at the show? DM me on LinkedIn or swing by Sophelle’s booth (336) at NRF!