Wow – the NRF Big Show 2024 did not disappoint! Like the weather (at some points) it has been a blizzard – a blizzard of retail innovation and excitement. No surprises for guessing what the topic of the conference was – you could not take more than 2 steps on the show floor without bumping into a generative AI reference.
Over a frenetic but fantastic three days in New York City, our team spent time with retail leaders from across the globe, enjoying fascinating discussions and exchanging insightful perspectives around the opportunities and challenges in the gen AI era.
In this blog post, I’ve recapped the five headline takeaways that you need to know as you continue your generative AI journey.
#1: AI readiness in retail is a journey
Corine Vives, Global Retail and Consumer Goods Lead
The speed at which generative AI has entered – and disrupted – our personal and professional lives has been astonishing. Generative AI’s rapid arrival means many retailers have been jolted into action, eager to explore use cases and consider how to introduce this rapidly evolving technology.
Use cases are exciting and intriguing, but there’s a fundamental phase that retailers must address before they look at specific scenarios. Their AI readiness.
But readiness is a journey – not a destination. It requires ongoing commitment – to become (and then to stay) ready. And it is truly multi-faceted. Readiness is much more than just a technology question. Even bigger than a data question. It is about adoption. It is about education and training. It is about governance. It is about leadership. It is about culture. It is all these factors – and more.
#2: AI-first means being people-first
Jillian Moore, Global Advisory Lead
What interested me the most about NRF 2024 is that everybody is saying the same thing about generative AI. Everyone is talking about how important generative AI will be. About the use cases it promises. About the technology platforms.
But the people component – which is what makes it all real – is the element that no one knows how to address. How do retailers encourage their people – both employees and customers – to trust and fully adopt these new capabilities? How do they make it real for people, in their roles and in their lives?
Our research revealed that 94% of retail businesses are confident in AI readiness, but only half have initiated human capital processes to protect roles during generative AI scaling. To grab the growth opportunities that AI offers, it’s vital that retail leaders consider more than the technology implications of AI. Ultimately, being AI-first means being people-first, and doing so responsibly.
#3: Responsible AI is pivotal for the retail industry
Pam Maynard, CEO
Every year I attend NRF, I'm struck by the retail industry's incredible sense of community. It's powerful to see how retailers come together to solve their collective challenges. They’re going to need this collaborative spirit to address the challenge I heard mentioned over and over again this year: Responsible AI.
Retailers are excited about the potential of generative AI, but at the same time overwhelmed by the ethical challenges and regulations that come with it. According to our research, 50% of retailers have either only implemented some of the guidelines that are required to foster a responsible AI approach, or are still in the process of developing guidelines and have not yet started implementation.
It’s clear that retailers need to take big leaps forward to be ready for the AI-first era – and we are committed to supporting them on their journey toward responsible AI adoption.
#4: AI will accelerate the move to a channel-less retail model
Rasmus Hyltegard, Global Data and AI Lead for Retail
What I’ve taken away from NRF 2024 is the belief that in the next 12 to 18 months, we'll see retailers broaden their horizons and return to focus on making channel-less shopping experiences a reality. And this will be made possible by modern data platforms like Microsoft Fabric alongside AI-powered Copilot capabilities.
After a period where retailers have been overwhelmingly focused on operational efficiency, the conditions, the appetite, the technology and the understanding is now all there to unleash channel-less retail.
The idea that “the customer is the only channel” has long been promised but we’ve not really seen it come to fruition. In the gen AI era, retailers finally have the data ecosystem and the AI-extended capability to introduce experiences that will enable consumers to shop wherever, whenever and however they choose, rather than being dictated to by the limitations of each individual channel.
#5: AI will help retailers do more with what they already have
Guro Faller, Enterprise Architect for Retail
Based on the conversations I had with clients at NRF this year, one of the main trends was how retailers can use AI to be more efficient, to optimise processes and to unlock more value from their existing resources and investments.
We can see this trend across many other industries of course, but the margin pressure in retail makes it particularly important. Ultimately this all comes back to data – and connecting that data so AI services like Copilot can be their most effective.
Back from NRF and now need to move forward with your AI journey?
Avanade is the global leader on the Microsoft platform, with industry-leading generative AI expertise. We’ve partnered with Microsoft on AI for almost a decade and hundreds of clients rely on us to help them responsibly innovate and work with AI to achieve things never possible before.
Wherever you are on your AI journey, we have workshops and assessments that can help. With more Microsoft MVPs, Microsoft Accreditations and Microsoft Partner Awards than any organization on the planet, Avanade can meet you where you are on your AI journey and help you take advantage of all it can offer.