NRF 2024: The next generation of retail has arrived

  • Posted on January 23, 2024
  • Estimated reading time 6 minutes
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The retail sector is in the throes of significant change. Consumer behavior is evolving, and transformative technologies are ushering in a new age of commerce. These changes and broad-stroke industry sentiments converged at NRF 2024, setting the scene for an exciting event ahead. On the back of the recent shopping seasons, it was clear that C-suite executives were ready to embrace the future of retail.

This year was the first time I attended NRF, the retail industry’s premier event, and I’m pleased to say it lived up to every expectation. I was struck by the breadth and depth of the global attendees. Invaluable insights were flowing from start to finish, with prominent tech and retail leaders hosting numerous thought-provoking discussions across AI, personalization, innovative technologies and more.

NRF’s exhibitors were far more diverse than the traditional, commerce-based businesses I had anticipated. Instead, exhibitors were connected to every thread running through the fabric of commerce, from AI-powered shopping carts and walk-in/walk-out omnichannel shopping experiences to supply chain management and robotic automation for factories.

But there was one topic on the tip of everyone’s tongue – generative AI. It proliferated every discussion at NRF, energizing the outlook for 2024 in a hugely positive and ambitious way. Here’s the full story of my experience at NRF 2024.

Demonstrating the Avanade effect
Generative AI was the centerpiece of our demonstrations at NRF. We wanted to give retailers and industry stakeholders the insight to fully comprehend its power, potential and purpose when integrated into their operations.

  1. Intelligent retail showcase
    Connected, channel-less, co-pilot-powered retail journeys have arrived. Our intelligent retail showcase highlighted three business-crucial solutions:
    • Intelligent channel-less commerce for right-time, right-place, right-customer content and AI-driven, personalized responses
    • AI-augmented customer insights and marketing for personalized, intelligence-led store associate interactions with customers
    • Copilot-powered frictionless store experiences for on-demand assistance, faster insights and seamless digital-physical experiences
  2. Avanade Gen AI lounge
    A look into the benefits of AI-powered profitable, people-first and planet-friendly retail. Our lounge highlighted four business-crucial solutions:
    • Unlocking generative AI superpowers with a unified data platform to improve decision-making across retail operations
    • Smart store innovation with Sony and Microsoft for enhanced in-store efficiency and productivity
    • AI-accelerated supply chain and demand planning for accurate product sales predictions, forecasts and inventory levels
    • Intelligent workforce management to strategically reduce labor costs and intelligently budget with confidence

Generative AI was always top of mind
It’s already powering the discovery of business insights, but now generative AI is revealing new opportunities for retailers too. From automating processes to managing data and much more, the conversation around generative AI’s potential to revolutionize the industry was inspiring.

We know that generative AI adoption is growing across our clients and it promises to be widely integrated within many retail businesses. Even so, many haven’t yet realized that generative AI is the key to unlocking latent potential within a workforce.

The C-suite executives I spoke to share a universal desire to provide staff with the tools to succeed and shift employee attrition. Generative AI can equip retail organizations with the tools to empower their people and teams to flourish in new, previously impossible ways.

For me, the potential for change is the most thought-provoking dimension of AI – but it’s not something that comes to life without careful consideration and a leadership-driven approach. Retailers must prioritize people and cultural shifts by establishing a framework for trust, transparency and risk management.

AI is a people-first technology at its heart, freeing time for creative thinking so staff can exceed every expectation. When considering how to implement generative AI, it’s best to think small and focus on areas where the benefits are clear. It’s why at Avanade we’re committed to supporting retailers to embrace disruption for an effective and responsible AI outlook.

Exciting AI-based developments from Microsoft
Microsoft showcased how its industry-leading innovations in the generative AI space are transforming possibilities for retailers. Through Microsoft’s frictionless approach to harnessing the power of AI, retailers can redefine the quality of experiences for shoppers and store associates. Our long-term partnership with Microsoft keeps us in perfect alignment with its generative AI solutions, ensuring we can support retailers to deploy tailor-made solutions to support their strategic ambitions.

Here’s what Microsoft was demonstrating to retailers at NRF:

  • The Copilot template for personalized shopping on Azure OpenAI Service uses generative AI and existing retail data to provide on-demand, personalized advice for transformative shopping experiences.

  • The Copilot template for store operations on Azure OpenAI Service supports associates to access information faster, increase productivity and efficiency, and focus on higher-value activities like customer engagement.

  • The retail data solutions in Microsoft Fabric accelerate retailers’ time to insight so they can make informed decisions across the customer’s shopping journey and react swiftly, while also reducing engineering and data science effort.

Sitecore revealed a first-of-its-kind integration
NRF’s attendees really resonated with our demo with Sitecore and Microsoft for Content and Commerce. We showcased the value of meeting customers where they are in their journey and at the point of transaction. It was clear from conversations throughout NRF that the retail industry is eager to harness the potential of personalization at scale.

It was exciting to see and discuss Microsoft's integration of Sitecore OrderCloud with Microsoft Fabric. With so many curious, forward-thinking attendees, it was important to highlight the role Avanade plays in bringing these kinds of solutions to life. It makes OrderCloud the first and only current commerce platform to integrate with Microsoft Fabric. Retailers can now fully harness their enterprise-wide data to inject crucial insights into the transactional commerce platform. The Microsoft-Sitecore collaboration has unlocked new opportunities for the ecommerce ecosystem, enhancing commerce capabilities and integrating AI, analytics, and commerce in previously impossible ways.

As a composable, headless and API-first toolset, OrderCloud offers retailers the flexibility to integrate with their existing platforms, instead of pursuing a costly rip-and-replace transformation. This means retailers can select specific tools to overcome targeted business pain points, or harness the entire toolset inside Sitecore’s end-to-end commerce platform for wider strategic objectives.

This kind of composability and operational freedom is a theme that runs through the Avanade, Sitecore and Microsoft partnership. It’s not about moving mountains, it’s about empowering retailers with the flexibility to cultivate a landscape that makes sense for them.

Key takeaways from NRF 2024

NRF showcased the rich depth of the retail industry
My professional roots stem from content as opposed to commerce. It was a real pleasure to hear such insightful discussions and explore the incredible commerce-led innovation throughout the event.

Generative AI demonstrated retail’s new reality
Leaders should drive the AI era forward while keeping a people-first approach at heart. But to get there, retailers must lay the foundations with a responsible AI framework and identify exactly where generative AI can provide real business impact.

Sitecore OrderCloud with Microsoft Fabric reimagined data-driven commerce
Retailers can overcome challenges flexibly and with pinpoint precision, without needing to overhaul an entire IT estate. By integrating data from Fabric into OrderCloud, retailers have a low-cost route to enabling limitless commerce capabilities inside Microsoft Cloud for Retail with data.

Has NRF 2024 inspired you to chart a future-ready course for your retail business? Put content at the heart of your commerce success – discover how you can fast-track your content management and branded commerce strategies with Avanade, Sitecore and Microsoft. Learn more and make channel-less your reality.

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