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Retailers Embracing Innovation: The Top 5 Takeaways from NRF

Jenna Harvey, Global Manager, Emerging Industries
July 8, 2021

I recently had the opportunity to attend and present at NRF’s Retail Converge Event. After a year of disruption, changing operations, and a new normaI for consumer behavior, several important topics came to the forefront for leading retailers. Here are my top five takeaways from the event:

There is a heightened push to modernize supply chains.

Retailers have identified weaknesses in their supply chains and are looking to innovations that can help them stay resilient and agile in the face of disruption.

In one session, the CEO of Walmart discussed the need for a more dynamic supply chain to address increasing demand for fast and convenient service. To meet changing customer expectations, Walmart is investing in making their supply chain more responsive and agile.

“I think over the next few years you’ll see supply chains become more dynamic. I think you’ll see the timeline from idea to delivery speed up.” — John Furner, CEO of Walmart US

Going forward, organizations must implement technology that can churn out solutions faster to keep pace with customer demand.

The pandemic has led to an increase in digital transformation initiatives.

While many retailers had identified initiatives to digitally transform their operations before the pandemic, COVID-19 pushed many to execute their plans to stay competitive.

For instance, pre-pandemic Kohl's was pursuing a more aggressive strategy for brand edits and reducing inventory. But as the pandemic hit they felt they had the opportunity to really lean in and take risks with their strategy to stay agile.

Additionally, Bed Bath & Beyond has established an “omni always” approach in response to the pandemic. They’ve shifted away from their previously siloed systems to provide the highest level of convenience to their customers, even transforming some of their stores into fulfilment centers in response to the pandemic.

Organizations are prioritizing transformation initiatives now more than ever—the pandemic has brought to light the necessity of modernizing operations to ensure resilience.

Retailers are shifting to more sustainable practices and ESG initiatives.

Many organizations are taking a look at their operations to find ways to eradicate waste and promote more environmentally conscious practices.

Levi’s is digitizing for more lean operations, implementing practices like demand and supply matching to eliminate waste and boost efficiency. They’re also working closely with their suppliers to ensure alignment and collaborate for more sustainable processes across their supply chain.

“Anything that we can do to be more efficient internally and more digital, less physical, faster helps our suppliers be more sustainable as well.” —Liz O’Neill, COO of Levi Strauss

Key components to more lean and green operations will be enhanced collaboration and process efficiency to reduce waste and alter how processes are executed.

Digital capabilities are at the forefront of corporate strategy.

Retailers are turning to new and innovative technology to improve operations and differentiate their corporate initiatives.

In one session, Walmart’s CTO/CDO stressed the importance of machine learning to help meet the elevated volume of online orders. Automation capabilities help determine where to ship an order and what the best way to fulfill it is based on the location of the customer.

Similarly, in the session with Levi’s, Liz O’Neill also spoke about accelerating digitization. This includes including artificial intelligence and machine learning in the forecasting process for supply and demand matching.

Additionally, Macy’s is focusing on data analytics and technology. They’ve pivoted to a “digital led” strategy and have even brought on a new Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to lead an integrated digital team across operations.

The top retail organizations are making digital a priority moving forward, implementing innovative automation capabilities to stay competitive in the new normal.

There is a growing emphasis on merchandising management.

A smarter and faster approach to merchandising and licensing is crucial to meeting customer expectations and staying ahead of the competition.

For example, the Macy’s CEO stated that the company has rapidly adjusted their merchandise mix based on customer interests.

At the Appian session, we also delved into the importance of more agile merchandising and licensing management. We demonstrated an application that improves process efficiency and visibility around licensing to capitalize on new partnerships across both direct-to-retail licensing and manufacturer licensing models.

To see how Appian is transforming merchandising management as well as innovating across retail operations, watch our session.

The retail sector is positioned for great innovation and growth moving into the next few years. It will be exciting to see how these topics will bring forth the future of retail.