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How NRF 2016 Reinforced The Importance Of Building Human Connections In Our Digital Lives

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“Human interaction must disrupt our increasingly digital lives” tweeted Michael Chase at #nrf16.

The NRF 2016 event floor was jam packed with hundreds of attendees curious to know about the next big thing in retail. Through an array of keynotes and discussions on how digital technology is reinventing the retail industry, I could grasp a sense of concern cropping up among this millennial generation – what’s the tipping point of digitalization? Will human contact become redundant as digital and AI take over? While our giant strides in technology advancement are exciting, one must also ponder over these fundamental questions.

My visit to NRF 2016 was enlightening in this regard. Amidst all the cutting-edge technologies, I discovered a greater symbiotic human and digital union. Before I write about my takeaways, let’s take a quick  look at some of the top trending tweets from people who were there:

2The common thread running through these conversations was the current divide between the physical and the digital, and the need to bridge it. My key learning was that digitalization need not replace the physical human experience, but rather augment it. Here are some of my other observations at NRF.

Personalization has become the focus of technology, now more than ever:

The industry is in the midst of this massive transformation when capturing human experiences, and enhancing human productivity has become really important. The future of retail lies in using this information to treat every customer in a unique manner. Digitalization, social media and rise of the ‘online’ profile has given each consumer a voice and made her an active entity, rather than just a face on another side of the television.

Insights, insights everywhere, but no insight acted upon:

At the event, one could hear buzzwords like Big Data, predictive analysis, store analytics etc., yet many people also brought up challenges with utilizing  insights to improve  store and product performance. Not many people were aware that to draw a visible ROI from analytics, you need to get your hands dirty. Retailers need to understand the consumer sentiments and act upon them. There were few solutions available to help retailers close the sales loop, and readjust their execution based on what their analytics told them.

Customer experience closes the deals, not just high-end technology:

Several sessions at NRF focused on the importance of listening for cues from customer conversations and crafting memorable experiences based on them. Every Sales, Marketing and Support activity is actually an opportunity to deliver a seamless customer experience. So focus on building a strong customer success team and providing dedicated customer manager to your premium clients. Overall, add a personal tone to your service and try to solve actual business problems for your prospects. This helps in building a long term connection, rather than just an instant transaction.

I had a very fruitful visit to NRF and it was interesting to meet a broad variety of event planners and marketing professionals. After all, it isn’t only the retailers at NRF who are looking to bring their offline and online worlds together perfectly. Event marketers are also going through the same journey. They just need to keep looking for smarter technology to make this experience seamless and rewarding.


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