NRF Big Show 2015 Day 2: For Many Companies, A Seamless Multichannel Experience Is the Goal
Mobile needs work, but retailers are accommodating smooth transitions from physical to digital shopping.
Posted Jan 13, 2015
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New York—"Everyone at this show [knows] that retail channels are blurring and converging," Matthew Shay, CEO of the National Retail Federation, emphasized in his opening remarks Monday during the second day of the NRF Big Show here. "What's in store? What's online? Retailers don't care; consumers don't care. Why should the Congress care?"

On behalf of the NRF, Shay outlined a proposal: the Marketplace Fairness Act, which calls for the amendment of current tax imbalances placed on brick-and-mortar stores. In the age of Amazon, current laws favor the online stores.

Shay also listed several other NRF objectives for the coming year. Among the goals is persuading Congress to lower U.S. corporate tax rates (which he notes are the highest in the world), update and improve U.S. trade agreements, and fix the "broken immigration system," which has had an adverse effect on the workforce. He proudly pointed out that retail was the sector most responsible for the nation's recent job growth, leading to the best year financially since the economic recession of 2008.

In the morning's keynote speech, Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the United States Federal Reserve under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, shed light on the causes and aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis. He touched on technology's role in connecting Asian and European nations, and went on to second Shay's statement that 2014 was a phenomenal year from a consumer activity standpoint.

Bernanke suggested that the recent plunge in oil prices should prove a boon to retailers. "The lower price of oil is giving extra disposable income to consumers at all levels," he said. This, in turn, should get people going to stores and further stimulating the economy.

In a panel titled "Mastering the Technological Mobile Roadmap on the New Customer Journey," executives representing several major online and brick-and-mortar stores spoke about how they are responding to on-the-go shopping, and an increasingly demanding yet unpredictable consumer landscape.

Ryan Craver former senior vice president of strategy at Lord & Taylor, proposed that companies should remember that "digital is the catalyst for commerce" if they want to stand any chance of surviving. He urged companies to pay attention to seemingly unrelated industries that may not have obvious commonalities, and not shy away from seeing how those industries' setbacks could potentially affect their own.

Faisal Masud, executive vice president of global e-commerce at Staples, held that the reason his company has been successful is its ability to understand that quality surpasses quantity when physical locations are involved. Though he is not entirely opposed to a brick-and-mortar presence, he emphasizes a positive customer experience, pointing out that there's an "oversaturation of physical stores" and that consumers are not loyal to physical establishments when there are other options.

Masud's colleague Allison Corcoran, senior vice president of marketing for North American stores and online at Staples, touched on similar points in a later panel, titled "Omnichannel Commerce: Successfully Navigating the New Purchase Path."

"We've gotten our in-store reps to truly understand...omnichannel," Corcoran said.

She further outlined how Staples has effectively combined online and offline to create a holistic and unified experience and how the two can work together by implementing kiosks and effective pick-up systems. One common use of next-day in-store pick-ups has been for people who like to create business cards on the Web site and pick them up in-store.

Masud noted that one problem retailers have traditionally had is consistently being late in giving consumers what they want. He pointed out that the seamlessness of mobile is still not in place, and that there's a lot more progress that can be made to bring it up to par with the desktop experience. "There's a lot more to do with mobile," he says.

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