Three Takeaways from NRF’s Big Show 2019

This year, the National Retail Federation’s Retail’s Big Show was buzzing with new technologies. From analytics and AI services, intelligent supply chain services, to IoT platforms and robots, the future of retail was on full display — one that promises to deliver greater personalization, enhanced customer experiences, and engagement.

Underpinning all of this is good data. As retailers continue to transform digitally, the ability to access and leverage the wealth of customer and product data is the foundation to their successful future. This will allow retailers to move quickly, be more agile and highly responsive to customer demands, and achieve greater efficiencies in their operations.

Here are three takeaways from my observations and discussions with customers, partners and industry peers at this year’s show:

China and the U.S.: A tale of two divergent shopping markets

Together, China and the U.S. represent the world’s largest retail and e-commerce markets, but the shopping landscape of each could not be more different. In China, two online retailers, Alibaba and JD.com, dominate the market and account for more than 85% of China’s e-commerce market. Chinese shoppers rely on these two platforms to buy virtually everything from their mobile devices. In fact, more than three-quarters (76%) of all e-commerce in China occurs via mobile devices and mobile payments remains the most popular choice for online purchases, according to Forrester.

In contrast, the U.S. is incredibly fragmented and becoming increasingly more complex. For search and discovery, there’s the obvious options of Amazon and Google, in addition to marketplaces such as eBay and Etsy, to name a few. We’re also witnessing the emergence and influence of social commerce with shoppable posts on Instagram, Pinterest and others. Beyond that, consider the thousands of retailers that each have their own direct-to-consumer shopping sites from high end retailers like Barneys and Nordstrom to mass appeal retailers like Target and H&M. And the fragmentation is only getting worse.

So how do brands meet consumer demand? If you’re a global brand, you need to be everywhere as quickly as your products are ready for market. As such, the need to syndicate the right product content to the right retailer and marketplace instantly is mission-critical.

The retail bright spot: Image and video shopping

Content is king and this is even more important when it comes to shoppable content, whereby consumers can shop directly from a piece of content, generally via a photo or video. Shopping by images and video is becoming the preferred way for consumers to search, discover and compare products online. In fact, as many as 78% of retailers in the apparel, big box and specialty sectors — and 41% of 400+ brands — have shoppable Instagram accounts, according to the 2018 Gartner L2 Social Platforms and Influencers Intelligence Report.

This year, videos will make up for 80% of internet traffic worldwide and 85% in the U.S., according to Cisco. For images and videos to be made easily searchable, it requires having granular attributes and classification information for each, known as metadata. For any multichannel commerce site, this would include brand information on specific products and images (size, keywords, rights etc.), as well as brochure data (descriptions, cover images, etc.).

Furthermore, brands must consider the ability to store information about similar and alternative products, as well as products for cross-selling and even competitive products. And it requires marketing and rich selling information to complement the imagery to entice the consumer to buy. Add in the requirements for personalization of content and you are talking about an explosion of product content that’s needed to be built and managed by marketing and merchandising departments.

Online and In-store: Creating a consistent, seamless experience

While there’s plenty of talk about omnichannel retailing, most retailers have yet to perfect this vision. Retailers are still seeking better and more innovative way to connect and create a seamless online and in-store experience for the consumer.

The use of IoT, sensors and data offer tremendous potential for improving the retail supply chain and customer experience innovation. A prime example at this year’s show is the Kroger and Microsoft partnership, showcasing the connected store experience with app-assisted pilot stores.

This latest innovation points to the need for retailers to up their game in serving up better product information, as well as pricing information on the competition in real time. Clearly, having consistent and complementary data and content for both in-store and online is crucial for this frictionless, seamless reality to ring true.

The common theme across all three of these developments is the imperative for an effective strategy for aggregating and managing all product data. And its why product information management (PIM) is becoming a priority technology investment for digital commerce. By leveraging a PIM system to feed commerce with accurate, granular and rich product content, brands and retailers are empowered to deliver personalization services and facilitate individualized digital experiences that today’s consumer demands.

This article originally appeared in MarTech Advisor