Published 29 January 2024

18 min read

Across retail (fashion, food, pets, home improvement, among others) and technology giants at this year’s NRF, Retail’s Big Show (New York City, January 14-16), the transformative potential of generative artificial intelligence dominated discussions – from how it’s disrupting online discovery to augmenting retail staff. Other key themes spanned securing Gen Zers’ affinity, betting on in-store services and unlocking new luxury opportunities.

1: AI-Led Discovery: Conversational Commerce’s Concierge-Like Upgrade

2: AI-Supercharged Staff, from Store to Call Centre

3: Gen Zalpha Learnings: From Sharing the Pen to Non-Transactional Lures

4: Spotlight on Servicescapes

5: Unlocking New Luxury Opportunities

The new wave of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools seized the spotlight, with key discourse focusing on the technology’s promise to significantly evolve online discovery – yielding hyper-contextualised results and offering stylist-like advice in response to natural conversational queries or uploaded images.

The new wave of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools seized the spotlight, with key discourse focusing on the technology’s promise to significantly evolve online discovery – yielding hyper-contextualised results and offering stylist-like advice in response to natural conversational queries or uploaded images.

Summary

1: AI-Led Discovery: Conversational Commerce’s Concierge-Like Upgrade

The new wave of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools seized the spotlight, with key discourse focusing on the technology’s promise to significantly evolve online discovery – yielding hyper-contextualised results and offering stylist-like advice in response to natural conversational queries or uploaded images.

2: AI-Supercharged Staff, from Store to Call Centre

Brands and technologists also discussed generative AI’s potential to augment retail staff helping customers. Standout strategies included real-time voice-based tech feeding associates answers and upselling suggestions through earpieces, on-shelf “digital humans” (screen-based avatars) equipped with in-depth product detail (think virtual sommeliers), and fine-tuned responses to customers’ texts that employees edit as needed.

3: Gen Zalpha Learnings: From Sharing the Pen to Non-Transactional Lures

Brands with a sizeable Gen Z fanbase – including McDonald’s, H&M and American accessories retailer Claire’s – discussed strategies for youth engagement, ranging from letting customers get weird with brand content and cementing loyalty through non-transactional lures to (following Barbie’s blockbuster year) more fully maximising brand intellectual property (IP).

4: Spotlight on Servicescapes

Several speakers highlighted new services as a key strategy for summoning shoppers out of their homes and sending spending soaring, from veterinary clinics (US-based pet giant Chewy’s first foray beyond e-commerce) to tech-centric cosmetic care applied by in-store experts (see American beauty brand Ulta).

5: Unlocking New Luxury Opportunities

Despite continued growth in the luxury sector (see Evolving Luxury Retail), forecasts estimate a global deceleration following the post-pandemic boom. Brands must therefore chase new opportunities – whether via the thriving second-hand luxury market (see Key Stats) or under-explored markets like South Korea, now boasting the highest per-capita luxury spend (Morgan Stanley, 2023). Strategies include digital passports enabling brands to profit from resales and tapping into Korea’s culture vultures.

NRF, Retail’s Big Show 2024: 5 Key Themes

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