Key themes we heard from global retail experts at NRF 2023

From luxury to grocery, brands and retailers seemed to be thinking about similar challenges and opportunities this year.
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“NRF Big Show”/Jason Dixson Photography

· 5 min read

We loved getting to meet so many of you at NRF, and to hear you dig into the industry’s hottest topics on the big stage (we know you couldn’t see us—we heard those stage lights were bright!) Narrowing down the top takeaways from all three days was a challenge, but we’ve pulled together a few of the overarching themes that came up in panel after panel.

Personalization and loyalty reign supreme

Loyalty programs and the opportunity to personalize the shopping experience is a key focus for many major retailers this year. That’s in part due to the choppy economic waters they’re steering through as we move into 2023.

The tightening of consumer purse strings and flat inflation-adjusted shopper incomes points to the need for brands to “dial up” loyalty, said Rachel Dalton, head of retailer insights at data analytics company Kantar, who interviewed Target’s EVP and chief growth officer,  Christina Hennington, on Tuesday.

  • “It’s really about having a constant connection with the consumer and the elements that the consumer expects, even as their needs and wants change,” Hennington said.

In addition to economic challenges, post-pandemic realities also play into the importance of loyalty, said Christopher Thomas-Moore, SVP of customer and store experience at Domino’s.

  • “Going through the pandemic, I think we all were seeking connection with people,” Thomas-Moore said during a Monday panel. “That connection translates in a lot of different ways when you talk about what that brand’s connection to their customer is.”
  • Personalization is a retail industry buzzword, but it’s multi-faceted, and is ultimately about staying relevant with consumers, Thomas-Moore said.

Maintaining loyalty among today’s consumers means staying ahead of the curve, Hollister’s senior director of brand marketing strategy, Jacee Scoular, explained. “Innovation, in a lot of ways, is that new kind of loyalty,” Scoular said. “Understand why consumers are voting with you, and innovate to keep up with what they expect from you,” she added, pointing to younger shoppers’ expectations surrounding conscious consumerism.

Gen Z thinks we’re obsessed with them. We are.

If “personalization” was one of NRF’s buzzwords, “Gen Z” was also definitely up there. From purpose-driven retail to live shopping, young consumers were top of mind.

The next generation “is always a little bit faster, a little bit more sophisticated, a little bit more mature,” explained Leslie Ghize, EVP at agency Doneger Tobe.

  • Brands have to tackle the dualities of younger generations, that include shopper personas ranging from “trend-addicted anti-capitalist” to “price-conscious status seekers” Ghize said.
  • “We have to be reactive to them,” she added. “They’re talking to us on a regular basis, on our socials…So we’re constantly getting information on what’s working for them and what’s not.”
  • And Gen Alphas are yet another story, Claire’s EVP and CMO Kristin Patrick said. “Trends and nuances that you find in Gen Z—that's triple fold when you go to the Alphas. Talk about creativity, talk about the generation that cares about the planet, and then sustainability and gender fluidity. All of that is really important to them.”

Brands are also looking to see how Gen Z is behaving and shopping in China. Renee Klein, vice president of global digital experiences and customer marketing at Coach, said the brand has devoted resources to really understanding Gen Z consumers in China.

  • “There’s this historic awakening in China, and I think that’s where we’re seeing a lot of playing with self expression, and maybe intentionally, different versions of themselves happening more in gaming environments,” Klein added.

The metaverse is cool, okay?

Klein dug more into Coach’s approach to the metaverse (*ahem*, another retail buzzword), and expressed confidence that the popularity of brands in gaming environments will only grow in the US market.

“We really want to show up where the consumer is naturally going, and that means…these gaming environments,” Klein said.

  • Coach has launched NFT collections and created virtual shopping experiences, including one in partnership with Arlene that launched on Alibaba’s T-Mall Luxury Pavilion.
  • Elsewhere at the conference, Tommy Hilfiger and NARS talked about everything from Metaverse Fashion Week to avatar makeup looks, and honed in on the importance of digital identity to young consumers.
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“[Consumers are] letting us go into different parts of their lives,” explained Patrick, at Claire’s, which built out a “Claire’s Town” in the gaming world Roblox. That means that brands need to be in those virtual realities, even if being first puts them in an “awkward position,” she added. “It’s changing so rapidly, you have to listen to your consumer this generation and adjust accordingly.”—MA

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