NRF 2021 – Day 1 – The Highlights

While one of the joys of NRF, is usually in learning about new innovations on the table, this time round, the focus was very much on looking back at a year that just wouldn’t quit.
While one of the joys of NRF, is usually in learning about new innovations on the table, this time round, the focus was very much on looking back at a year that just wouldn’t quit.

If somehow you weren’t yet aware, a quick drop into any of the opening sessions at this year’s Virtual NRF – was enough to remind you that last year was a challenging one for retail. Of all the exciting buzzwords doing the rounds – try supply chain, mobile first, contactless, personalization for just a few – challenging (just behind our friend ‘unprecedented’) was that which most frequently cropped up across the speakers on Day 1.

2020 was indeed a full-on year, from the initial scramble of awareness that we were about to enter uncharted territories in March, to the burst of innovation that saw retailers leaping to meet new customer demands and expectations.

While one of the joys of NRF, is usually in learning about new innovations on the table, this time round, the focus was very much on looking back at a year that just wouldn’t quit.

Here’s our key take-aways from Day 1.

Customers After COVID – Andrea Bell, Director of Insight, WGSN

In a session subtitled ‘making sense of the aftermath of uncertainty’ Andrea Bell, Director of consumer insights group WGSN, gave a tour guide of some of the aspects of new groups of customers we might expect to see emerging in the near future.

While some of the diagnosis veered to the dark – with factors such as anxiety, guilt, burn out and ‘compassion fatigue’ looming large – Bell presented an overview of four key emerging category types ‘The Predictors, ‘New Romantics’, ‘The Impossibles’ and ‘The Conductors’.

A key fact of the session was that 70% of ecommerce transactions suffered cart abandonment with the attention divide of home life and world concerns dragging customers away.  Bell also looked at the growing trend for wellness products amongst ‘New Romantic’ consumers, predicting growing markets in psychotropics, CBD and ‘emotional hygiene’ ventures in 2023.  

The Economic Reality of Post-Covid World, Janey Whiteside, CCO, Walmart

Janey Whiteside, CCO of a little brand you may have heard of called Walmart, covered a lot of interesting material, with Deloitte Economist Ira Kalish.  Kalish’s observation that 2020 2Q saw the biggest decrease of GDP ever, followed by the largest increase in Q3 set the context for a turbulent economic stage, we’re still very much walking through.

Whiteside’s insights from the view of one of the world’s largest retailers, painted a picture of massive overhaul and change, like nothing she’d ever seen.  From the consumer rush of early lockdown – and interesting evolvement of product demand from toilet roll to sewing machines in just a few months – to the massive uplift in digital use. 

In just 5 weeks, Whiteside noted there was more adoption of the likes of pick-up and delivery services than there had been in the previous 5 years.  Unsurprisingly the issue of safety for consumers and associates alike was a big one, with Whiteside noting Walmart’s impressive supply chain abilities as a key part of their ability to get product to customers, while delivering as ‘contactless’ an experience as possible.

Asked if Walmart saw themselves as a ‘data company’, Whiteside was quick to note that however good you are at data mining, unless your customers trust you, it doesn’t matter.  Positioning permissions and trust (as well as the companies vast data network covering financial and medical services) would be key to future success and presented as cornerstones of the retailers future plans.

Customer-Centric Loyalty, Kelly Mahoney, VP Customer Marketing, Ulta and Doug Glazer, Fanatics Sr Director Customer Loyalty and Gift Cards

The day closed out with two parallel sessions looking at the evolution of loyalty in the light of COVID-19.  For Ulta’s Kelly Mahoney, the pandemic gave time for the brand to focus on their evolution from ‘a functional to purposeful brand’ – based on an ambition to articulate the emotive possibilities of bringing how ‘beauty makes you feel to life’ across all communications. Mahoney also spoke to new forms of consumer engagement in physical stores, particularly amongst Ulta’s younger base – noting that 50% of Gen Z shoppers now leveraged a digital tool during their in-store shopping journey.

From a different world but delivering a similar message in many ways in similar tones, Doug Glazer, Director of Loyalty for sports group Fanatics, said that the immediate COVID pause gave his team time to realize that ‘from a loyalty perspective, we hadn’t been doing a great job actioning our values’.

Having the opportunity to action this – the brand shipped millions of masks and gowns for front-line responders as well as organising fund-raising events powered by their ability to run hundreds of ‘sweep stakes’ simultaneously – gave the Fanatics team the opportunity to live out those aspirations – “loyalty is something we strive to earn form our customers, not something customers earn from us.”


If you’ve made it this far, congratulations – you’re clearly of good sense, which is why you should come and say hello at the TruRating virtual booth. Learn a little bit more about how we’re helping retailers put data-driven decision making at the heart of all they do and maybe even just fro a quick chat about how your year’s went too.

You can find the link to our booth here:

See you here tomorrow with more updates from Day 2!

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