Top 3 Trends from NRF 2020

NRF’s Big Show has just wrapped up, and after three days packed to the brim with insights from leading retailers, one thing is clear: a focus on the customer is essential in today’s competitive retail market. Whether you’re a digital-first disruptor brand or a legacy company who has transitioned into the 21st century, an exceptional customer experience drives business success. Read on to learn the top three trends we saw at NRF 2020.

Customers Take Center Stage

Brands are constantly talking about “customer obsession”. It’s a buzzy phrase, but it doesn’t quite get to the bottom of how you should be treating customers, only that you should be obsessing over them. According to Alex Genov, Manager of Research and User Experience at Zappos, “customer care” is far better than obsession. When brands really, truly care about their customers, and build a company culture that supports this care, they’re able to be leaders in their space.

And employees can truly make all the difference. Stacy Siegal, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of AEO Inc, the parent company of American Eagle, revealed that their associates were renamed “brand ambassadors”. They are empowered to be able to handle problems themselves, and advocate for the brand. In essence, everyone that works at AEO is a leader, and they are empowered to own the brand’s success. Damu McCoy, Vice President of Talent Acquisition at Target, agrees with this concept. Target customers are called “guests”, and when they are looking to hire new talent they search for individuals that embody their values: guest-focused and guest-centric.

Building Deeper Connections with Consumers

The best way to build brand loyalty and advocacy is by establishing deep connections with consumers over shared values. That’s what we learned from Annie Agle, Director of Impact and Brand at Cotopaxi, and Kelly Cobb, VP of Community and Giving at Bombas. Both are successful brands that put giving back at the core of their strategy. This approach has naturally led to a “community” of customer advocates that feel as though their values are reflected in the brands they do business with, and find kinship with other customers of that brand.

Pooja Agarwal, Chief Operating Officer of Birchbox, also described how the subscription service has built a community of loyal followers over the past decade. First they identified their target audience, one that had been historically underserved. They encourage social sharing and also take pride in the fact that their employees are part of this community. It isn’t just the customer service team that is handling CS…all employees are answering questions, handling tickets and understanding customer feedback.

Additionally, transparency and feedback is essential to build these deeper connections. After a recent snafu with fulfillment, Rent the Runway vowed complete transparency to their customers and committed to do the right thing. Instead of angry customers, they actually found that this honesty and transparency fostered greater loyalty in their customer base, said CEO Jennifer Hyman. Angle of Cotopaxi agreed. Perfection is hard to achieve, and the company acknowledges its shortcomings and is open about where they want to improve.

All of these actions build trust and deep connections with a community of customers, and these customers become your advocates, not just you buyers. According to Pinterest retail strategist Amy Vener, individuals are looking towards their community for recommendations, rather than sponsored content or influencers. So the more that retail brands can build this community of loyal customer advocates, the more successful they will be.

Shopping for the Experience

In a panel with the founder of JRNI and the Senior Manager of Brand Experience and Events of Total Wine & More, it became abundantly clear that customer experience is more central than ever before for business success. While individuals used to shop out of necessity or convenience, experience is now the leading reason.

Therefore, it is hyper-important to provide the best possible experience, both in-store and online. Keith Neely, VP of E-Commerce and Digital Marketing at Case-Mate, emphasized how providing a seamless experience directly correlated with repeat customers for his business.

The most prominent example of providing a true “experience” for customers, is the new Nordstrom flagship store in New York City. CEO Erik Nordstrom explained in his keynote that stores now must be more experiential, not just a place to buy an item and leave. In the Nordstrom flagship they have a bar in the shoe department, various restaurants, and a whole floor for beauty treatments.

As Nordstrom said, customers don’t use the word “channel”. The lines are completely blurred, and they look for a singular experience no matter whether they are shopping in-store, online, on social or mobile. The customer experience should be unified, and it reigns supreme.