The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Big Show kicked off in New York City Sunday. The show brings together industry professionals from retailers, technology companies, analysts, and media outlets. This year, 40,000 attendees from more than 100 countries and 6,200 brands were expected at the Javits Center to discuss all things retail.
These were the top ecommerce stories from the first day of NRF’s flagship event.
AI is on everyone’s mind
As expected, AI came up in nearly every conversation. In a session on Salesforce’s AI features for retailers, vice president and general manager of retail Rob Garf pointed out that AI itself isn’t new in retail. Brands have been using AI to make personalized recommendations for years. That’s primarily what drove the 17% of all holiday orders attributable to AI in November and December. That’s just the beginning of what AI can do for retail, Garf said. Now, generative AI is emerging, to be followed by autonomous AI and eventually artificial general intelligence, Garf says.
Salesforce also introduced some new AI tools for its clients at the conference through the Einstein 1 Platform. The consumer-facing Einstein Copilot gives consumers products recommendations with generative AI based on their location, preferences, and other data.
For retailers, Einstein 1 uses generative AI to build a customizable ecommerce web page. Merchants can create new pages that mirror existing branding. Salesforce will also use AI to analyze returns and inventory data and find trends that retailers can use to make strategic decisions.
The emerging consensus around AI seems to be that retailers might feel apprehensive about AI and its many potential uses, but they can’t afford to ignore it. Because much of the technology is so new, it can be difficult for retailers to find talent to work with it, Ekta Chopra, chief digital officer at e.l.f. Beauty said. “Everyone is an AI expert and no one is,” she told attendees.
E.l.f. Beauty ranks No. 950 in the 2023 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000. The Top 1000 is a ranking of North America’s leading retailers by online sales.
Omnichannel rules retail
The line between online and in-store retail continues to blur, at least for retailers. “Everybody needs to think like an omnichannel retailer,” if they want to be successful, Michelle Gass, incoming Levi’s (No. 192) CEO, said. Gass pointed to her tenure at Kohl’s (No. 23). During her time at the helm, the retail chain began accepting Amazon (No. 1) returns in stores. The partnership was a boon to Kohl’s business, she said, bringing new customers into stores.
John Furner, Walmart U.S. CEO, (No. 2) echoed the point. Last week, Walmart announced several app updates that would also impact how customers shop in stores. For example, at Sam’s Club members can now skip checkout by scanning items and paying on their phones. Customers will no longer have to wait in line while an employee checks their receipts to confirm purchases, the retailer announced. Sam’s Club is rolling out AI and computer vision technology that will automatically confirm purchases so consumers can walk right out of the store.
FedEx announced a commerce platform
FedEx president and CEO Raj Subramaniam revealed new plans for an end-to-end commerce platform for retailers using its proprietary data. The new platform is called “fdx.” Subramaniam said it will help retailers track the four most important areas of ecommerce across the customer experience: demand, conversion, fulfillment and returns.
The shipping carrier says it will launch fdx in fall 2024. FedEx is offering previews to interested retailers now, and demonstrating some of the technology at its NRF booth.
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