AT&T at NRF 2023: Three Takeaways from Retail’s Biggest Show

By Michael Colaneri, vice president of Global Business – Retail and Enterprise Solutions

With ever-changing consumer habits and technological advances, the retail industry is in a state of evolution and adaptation. Especially after a few challenging years and economic uncertainty. But with such unpredictability how can retailers break through a digitally saturated marketplace while staying innovative and adaptive in-store while honoring their true north star: the customer?

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This concept of “breaking through” – operating smarter, faster and more innovatively than ever before – was a major theme at the 2023 National Retail Federation Conference and Expo in New York City. So much of what retailers do to reach customers comes down to how they utilize technology to their advantage – centralizing consumer experience as paramount.  Technology is absolutely trending upward in both online and inline (seamlessness from first search thru post sale consumer satisfaction across any possible channel) retailing, with emphasis on customer value driving all evolution.  Using that as my lens, here are a few of the biggest take-aways from my time at NRF 2023 that I expect to impact the retail sector.

Bringing shoppers back into stores

Customers are very comfortable and proficient with their ability to purchase items online and receive merchandise within hours. We also know that customers value certain experiences in-store – and what they want is something new and innovative that benefits them, without simply leaving their data in hands of retail mining. By modernizing technologies in AI, VR, Video, etc., truly individualized experiences are curated.  In-store customer autonomy such as self-service kiosks, and virtual sales experiences that help bridge online and offline shopping, or digital store navigation and line queueing or mobile cash wraps that remove friction from the in-store experience are gaining popularity.  What retail customers are looking for today is drastically different from the past, with less consumer tolerance for irrelevant references (generic product referrals or upselling), and in particular BOTS and cookies that crowd the consumer’s device without benefit.

To fuel all of these new in-store enhancements, one must consider the source of power to bring it all together – strong and reliable terrestrial and wireless strength.  More computational power, more sophisticated applications, and hyper individualized 1:1 experiences require reliable connectivity. Not only does this positively impact the experience of customers that walk through the door, but it also reduces operating costs along with supply chain and labor enhancements. It’s a win-win for retailers looking to grow their business. Every technology that shrinks operating costs, creates efficiency in supply chain, and mechanizes labor optimization are trending.  It’s forecasted that in 2023, 75% of enterprise retailers will double deployment of mobile devices for Associates to empower employees to improve customer service1. We can see that to bolster the in-store experience, retailers will be keen to tap into new technologies and evaluate existing methods to ensure they’re attracting and retaining a loyal customer base.

Blending consumer interests within retail environments

Consumers today have a lot on their mind and have a vested interest in the world that surrounds them. With a variety of ideologies and principles making up the modern consumer, solving for time efficiency and accommodating their idealism underpins much of retails emerging innovations. We’re seeing a greater emphasis placed on smaller footprint stores, where new formats highlighting local interests, sourcing, and transparency provide customers with more personalized inventory that feels more neighborhood aware. With that comes a greater emphasis on supply chain modernization, requiring greater timeliness, accuracy, and visibility. Consumers are also seeking sustainability upgrades with greater transparency to action and contribution vs simple ESG compliance. 

Bringing these interests to life in the retail environment will require trusted and customizable solutions. Retailers need to know that the technology powering their business is flowing seamlessly, because at the end of the day, the customer experience remains top tier. These types of enhancements to the retail environment can not only make a huge difference in how customers perceive the shopping experience, but open new doors for business owners. With greater visibility into the lifespan of products – from materials sourcing and manufacturing and beyond, retailers investing in technology reimaging will see immediate and long-range rewards. 

Investment in security is paramount

ORC (Organized Retail Crime) has plagued virtually every retail segment.  In 2023 consumer safety and network security remain top-of-mind priorities. No matter the size or scale of the solutions we deploy for our customers, security always rises to the top of the list of crucial business needs.   Demand for sweeping enforcements to combat in-store asset protection along with cyber-crimes will continue as well as investments in technology that helps secure merchandise and protect consumers.

Experts predict that by 2026, 40% of retailers will implement end-to-end integrated cloud security solutions. Their focus will be to secure data across omni-channel applications and endpoints while reducing the number of cyberattacks and losses1. While these necessary steps are optimal when invisible to the consumer tangibly improved customer experiences from these increased investments in security will undoubtedly impact experience, perceptions of safety, and protected purchasing in-store and online.

Getting customers into stores while innovating retail spaces and streamlining the entire online/inline journey is going to be priority in 2023. And while there is no one-size-fits-all solution all retailers will follow, even the smallest adoptions can make the difference in breaking through to customers and advancing the use of technology.  More importantly, building the right foundational modular technology platforms that allow for perpetual application expansion, improvement, addition and subtraction have never been more critical.

For more information on services, please visit AT&T Business for Retail.

1 IDC FutureScope, Worldwide Retail 2023 Top Predictions

Michael Colaneri

Michael ColaneriVice President of Global Business – Retail and Enterprise Solutions