NRF 2018 Recap: Welcome to the World of Unified Commerce

This past month the Ketner Group team journeyed to New York City to attend NRF 2018: Retail’s BIG Show, where the majority of our clients were either exhibiting or attending. This being my third year to attend the conference the phrase ‘BIG Show’ was definitely not lost on me, as every year it seems to me that the show floor grows in number of exhibitors and attendance traffic, as you are forced to weave in-and-out of the massive crowds to get to your next appointment.

However, before arriving to the show this year, I wondered if the ongoing ‘retail apocalypse vs. retail transformation’ conversation would have any impact on the show’s attendance and energy. After attending the show and taking some time to reflect on everything I learned, I can tell you that the term ‘BIG Show’ lived up to its reputation and then some!

Above all, the show seemed to showcase a renewed spirit in retail, one in which retailers realized the time to change has come. But their change will be tactful and needs to focus on bringing true improvements and execution in order to attain a customer-centric environment that delivers a seamless shopping experience across all touchpoints.

How are retailers planning this you ask? Here are a few top themes heard and seen across the show floor.

Unified Commerce

If you took one look at the show floor, two words stood out above all: Unified Commerce. This year unified commerce took center stage as retailers connected with IT vendors to discuss how to achieve a unified commerce environment by 2020. Several retailers noted that while they have adopted a few technologies already to create a unified commerce experience, there is still work to be done to bring all the puzzle pieces together. We expect, as do many industry insiders, that unified commerce will be a top priority for retailers in 2018 and beyond.


If achieving unified commerce is the main goal for retailers, then personalization and customer-centricity are the main pillars to achieve this goal. Conversations at NRF around personalization and customer-centricity sought to arrive at the true meaning of these capabilities and the technologies that will allow retailers to make it happen.  For example, retailers noted that offering personalized recommendations based on a consumer’s cart items is just one piece of personalization, rather than the whole package. Therefore, retailers are looking to prioritize building out their personalization offerings as the year continues.

Robots, Voice and AI

NRF did not lack the latest in robot, voice and AI technologies. If you happened to take a quick tour through NRF’s Innovation Lab, you were greeted by several technology vendors showcasing robots that help pick out personalized grocery lists for consumers, face-recognition technologies that tout the ability to place your favorite fast-food order upon arrival to that restaurant, and voice-assistants that could instantly replace your favorite item. While various retailers were laser-focused on ensuring the foundational technology to build a unified commerce environment was in place, it’s no doubt that the adoption of these new technologies will be next on retailers’ roadmap.

NRF definitely set the pace for retail priorities in 2018, and if the industry is as busy as the conference was this year, then we are in for a thrilling ride in 2018.