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NRF 2017 – it’s all about the ‘C’ word

Chris Field
Chris Field

I was in Washington, D.C. this week with the National Retail Federation, in a blue sky meeting to decide the themes for next January’s big show. What do we need to talk about and which retailers best represent the trends?

The C word came up quite a bit – competition.

All the major US TV networks are making major investments into home shopping, a fact well known to the incoming NRF President and CEO, Mindy Grossman, who is CEO of the Home Shopping Network.

So what? TV shopping is nothing new. The point is, what is and what will be a retailer in the future? Retailers are investing in content, while media companies are investing in retail. Look no further than Marie Claire launching its own ecommerce beauty business for an example.

The old barriers of location and real estate are gone and competition is all converging on a point – a digital connection with the customer through their screens.

I’m guessing this will all sound familiar to you, the idea of convergence has been with us a while and the evidence of it is all around, but the full impact is only now coming through. The U.S. economy, while there is disagreement on how sustainable the growth is, contains all sorts of warning signs for retailers.

For all the good news, most major retailers are having to think for the first time about store sizes and numbers, leading some to huge closure programmes. Walgreens, Sports Authority, American Eagle, even Wal Mart, are all closing or planning to close stores – not as part of a regular rebalancing that all retailers go through, but in response to market dynamics they have never seen before.

The threat all retailers face now is too much supply, too little demand. Excellent news for consumers, but not for retailers. What’s the answer? This too may be familiar but these are lessons that many retailers have never had to learn; competing in a crowded market requires a laser focus on the brand, the offer, product margin and the customer.

Sounds simple, until you consider that not all retailers are geared up to do this. The brand and the offer, no problem, but product margin? So much cash is lost in the supply chain, inefficient replenishment and misdirected promotions, due to disintegrated systems and processes, that it is hard to see how most retailers can fix this in time.

And as for the customer, who continues to float invisibly through many of the retailer’s core channels, most notably the store, how will this get fixed quickly enough to meet the challenge of the media companies?

That’s our challenge for NRF 2017 – to find the retailers who have some of the answers.

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