The third day of the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 101st Annual Convention & Expo, known as Retail’s BIG Show, continued to deliver informative content that many retailers could go home and put into action.

I was eager to sit in on another day of the NRF’s First Look ecommerce sessions, with the hope that what I picked up would be worth sharing with you. The track didn’t disappoint.

It’s All About Rapid Innovation
My day started with the session, “What the Next Five Years of Retail Will be About,” featuring Mitch Joel from the digital agency Twist Image. Of the five key ideas that Joel stressed, perhaps the most important message to retailers was to start looking at your marketing efforts in a very different way.

More specifically, Joel explained the importance of not siloing social efforts from traditional marketing and to stop “thinking that the young people with earrings and tattoos must be the Facebook people.” He also talked about passive (i.e., television) versus active media and reminded the audience that while Facebook and Twitter may be active social media channels, they still have some passive users.

A theme throughout the conference that Joel picked up on was the fact that retailers can no longer avoid mobile commerce—especially when you consider research he shared that shows the number of consumers accessing content from retailers via mobile devices in the past year increased a dramatic 74 percent.

His other ideas included:

  1. Creating direct relationships with your customers.
  2. Becoming intimate with your analytics team.
  3. Practicing utilitarianism. More bluntly, “If they don’t download it, don’t be stupid. It sucks!)
  4. Transitioning to a one screen world

Forget Offline and Online: Integrate
Next up was author and marketing consultant (and Monetate Advisory Board member) Bryan Eisenberg, whose numerous video examples during “The Future Shopper: How Offline is the New Online” really made much of what he forecasts crystal clear. He kicked off his presentation with a very concise message: There is no such thing anymore as online and offline.

Eisenberg’s impactful message included a discussion regarding the lack of innovation in the way consumers pay for things with, as he believes, the credit card being the most recent significant advancement. He then showed a promotional video for Google Wallet, which I’m personally very excited about once it’s not limited to just Android-powered phones with NFC that run on the Sprint mobile network.

When you consider, according to Eisenberg, that half of consumer purchases today are being influenced in someway by consumer interaction with mobile devices, the need to act now is more real than ever. “It doesn’t matter if the mobile channel is driving revenue today,” he said. “It will.”

Eisenberg also stressed that retailers must provide additional value beyond product and pricing in order to survive. “Stop thinking about it, and start doing,” he said. One of my favorite videos was “We Are the Future” and features teenagers discussing how they expect to be marketed to in the future. It’s definitely worth watching.

Omnichannel Service Scores Big Wins
The First Look presentation, “Harnessing the Power of 220 Stores and 4,400+ Associates to Win Web Shoppers in the Local Market,” was led by Stephen Zapf, EVP of Multi-Channel Operations at Guitar Center. This session’s title was exactly the message delivered during the presentation!

Anyone with a business model similar to Guitar Center’s should take a look at what they’ve done in a short amount of time in providing content relevant to local customers in their markets and using online to bring together stores, people and products. Although you may see it as risky, something as simple as offering customers and prospects the ability to have high-quality interactions by providing them access via email to store associates has already had a positive impact on Guitar Center’s business.

Taking on the Tablet
Before heading to a few afternoon meetings, I checked out Stephen Burke’s presentation on “Designing with the Tablet Consumer in Mind.” Burke, who is Vice President of Mobile at Resource Interactive, zeroed in on this hot topic by citing research that revealed one out of every five people in the US intends to purchase a tablet within the next six months.

Burke said the folks who now have to start designing for the tablet feel like they are trying to fit a size 12 foot into a size 10 shoe, as they shift away from the smaller smartphone screen. He also provided four basic, but very good tablet design principles: 

  • Engaging
  • Shareable
  • Shoppable
  • Expandable

While I enjoyed much of Burke’s presentation, he had an obvious bias towards native applications for tablets. I think the presentation would have been even more effective if he had spoken about the advantages of tablet and smartphone optimization using existing websites, which can certainly benefit from the four design principles he covered during the session.