Ketner Group Reflections on NRF 2011

Valerie, Catherine, Brittany, Caitlin & Jeff at Paramount Hotel in NYC
PHOTO: Valerie, Catherine, Brittany, Caitlin & Jeff at Paramount Hotel in NYC

Rather than one of us posting an exhaustive blog post about our experience at NRF 2011, we decided that each one of us Ketner Groupers who traveled to NYC for NRF could tell a little bit about our personal experiences and observations at the show. Please comment and let us know what you thought about the show, and whether you agree or disagree with us!

Coolest thing I saw at NRF: The crowds, enthusiasm and overall positive tone of the show was in sharp contrast to recent years. It was great to see retailers turn out in record numbers, and our clients attending NRF certainly felt upbeat after the show. Perhaps the coolest thing at NRF, though, was what happened just prior to the show: the Retail Orphan Initiative’s SuperSaturday event drew nearly 200 attendees to hear from some of the best minds in retail technology, and the event raised approximately $300,000 to help fund programs for orphans and other vulnerable children worldwide. The retail industry is rallying around RetailROI.

Best thing I did in NYC: Rock N’ Roll Retail was once again the most fun experience at NRF. The level of musicianship and camaraderie at this event was over the top, and it was a blast to be able to participate. Hats off to Dave Weinand at RIS News for having the vision to put this together. The KG gang will be there again next year!

My thoughts on retail in 2011: Mobile technology was everywhere on the show floor. Mobile has become the #1 game-changer in retail technology, and it’s only going to continue to grow in 2011. There are two facets to mobile, though, as was evident at NRF: connecting with consumers through their mobile devices and also using iPads to further extend enterprise applications inside retail organizations. So while mobile can help retailers engage with consumers, it’s also going to help them become more productive.

Coolest thing I saw at NRF: Although I didn’t get to try it out myself, the coolest thing I saw at NRF was the virtual dressing room that was set up outside the show hall. I’d heard of the virtual dressing room, but had never seen it in person.  Another cool thing I saw at NRF was a booth (the name escapes me) that had all kinds of shopping bags displayed – it definitely made me stop and look!

Best thing I did in NYC: Hands down, the best (and most fun) thing I did at NRF was to walk in Central Park during our “Day Off Snow Day!” To see Central Park is one thing, to see if covered in snow is quite another!  Kids were sledding and tons of  photographers were out in full force. Plus, I dragged my wonderful coworkers all over the park to look for the famous Balto statue so that I could take a picture of it for my 5-year-old daughter who is obsessed with sled dogs.  Oh, and I saw my very first celebrity on the streets of NYC – the wickedly talented Bebe Neuwirth, who is currently starring on Broadway’s The Addams Family.

My thoughts on retail in 2011: I am not an expert by any means, but my thoughts on retail for 2011 are fairly simple: My mother, a 56-year old Southern white woman, has always been my “control group” for a lack of better words, when it comes to any new technologies. She’s willing to try new things just as long as it is easy to learn. For example, when she got on to Facebook last year, I knew that our society had been officially saturated by social media. The same thing happened several years before that when she started purchasing items on her favorite retail brands’ e-Commerce sites. I know mobile is poised to explode in 2011, but to what extent, is still TBD in my mind. I am a huge cheerleader for mobile commerce, but my mom still doesn’t have a smartphone (although I’m trying desperately to change her mind) and she is obviously not shopping via her very basic mobile phone. We’ve all heard of the “Oprah Effect” but in my family we also have the “Susan Effect.”

Coolest thing I saw at NRF: As an NRF newbie, the whole show amazed me. I was surprised by the sheer size of the show, especially the elaborate booth designs and enormous crowds. It was an overwhelming experience, but one that I am so glad I was able to participate in!

Best thing I did in NYC: After a quick post-flight lunch on Sunday, Caitlin and I had a couple of hours to kill and decided to see if we could snag discount Broadway tickets at the last minute. At 2:30, we purchased two tickets to see Chicago-at 2:30! We literally ran two and a half blocks through Times Square to get to the theater, and were seated (center, orchestra, 12 rows back!) just as the first song began. It was so much fun!

My thoughts on retail in 2011: I think retailers will continue to seek the Apple Store experience. They want the look and feel of the Apple UI, the in-store entertainment value and the seamless, mobile POS user experience.

Coolest thing I saw at NRF: I’m not bragging on my client just because I should, but honestly, Digby’s combined demo with their new partner, Aruba, was one of the coolest demos I saw all week. Using Toys R Us as an example, they launched the Toys R Us mobile application on a smartphone and scanned the barcode of a Tickle Me Elmo doll. Immediately, we could see product details, customer reviews, advice from other moms and even a one minute video showing the doll in more detail. I think this kind of customer experience will catch on more and more throughout 2011 and I can’t wait for my favorite retailers to make these functions available to me!

Best thing I did in NYC: The day we were “stuck” in New York after the snow storm, the Ketner Group ladies and I ventured through the Upper East Side and Central Park. It was a beautiful day of snow, brasseries and shopping!

My thoughts on Retail in 2011: With what I gathered from the chatter on mobile retail and social media, I believe that 2011 will be the “what’s next?” year for not only retail, but technology in general. In 2008 and 2009, social media exploded and in 2010, mobile took the front seat. What will be the “next big thing” in technology? 2011 will be the year we find that it will only become easier for the retailer and the shopper to be connected on every desired level – through what additional technology beyond mobile and social media? Only time will tell!

Coolest thing I saw at NRF: I get excited about the continued advancement of automation solutions. (Maybe it’s my love of robots.) I got to talk to the folks at ZoomSystems to learn more about their super sleek high-end vending machines, and I was also impressed by the demo at Balance Innovations‘ booth. I would have loved that automated till count and check scan in my retail days, and they have a solution that automates the managing, monitoring, and balancing of self-checkout terminals so they’re not just easy on shoppers, but on retailers, too. Of course, our clients showed some great new products, too, but if I mentioned one I’d want to mention them all!

Best thing I did in NYC: Ate! Call me a glutton, but my favorite thing about traveling is experiencing all kinds of new and awesome food. Some of my favorites were Shake Shack, Crif Dogs, Blue Fin (tradition for our client QuantiSense’s annual dinner), Tse Yang with our client Digby, and Market Table. Every time I go to NYC, I can never seem to hit half the places on my list to eat.

My thoughts on retail in 2011: I think retailers need to look back to the basics in 2011. That might sound counterintuitive with all the incredible technological advances being made almost every day, but it’s true in many ways. For one example, just watch Ariana Huffington’s 4-minute TED talk on How to Succeed (spoiler alert: GET MORE SLEEP.) It’s a major dose of reality that I think business people of all kinds — retail included — should watch. Second, vendors are showing all these great new mobile technologies, and while some of them can rely on 3G, enabling the best experience for many of these technologies requires WiFi — which 60% of retailers still don’t have in their stores. That statistic may have been the most shocking to me at NRF because it seems like such an obvious need, but retailers are far behind in offering WiFi.