What Was Big at the NRF Big Show

Michael Maginnis

The MJD team attended the NRF Big Show last week and came away both inspired and a bit overwhelmed. We were inspired by the digital innovation happening in retail, with big and small players alike pushing the boundaries of technology. It felt a bit more like CES than the NRF shows of the past with virtual and augmented reality, cognitive computing, RFID, chatbots and plenty of cutting edge software options being sold as the savior to all retailers.

We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of options retailers have to choose from. This brings up important questions: What exactly does the software do; would this technology provide value to my organization; and what would it actually take to implement any of these options? How does someone weed through everything to find something that works? Well, we’ve taken a stab at that. The following technologies and services cut through the noise for us as viable options for retailers to utilize in process of modernizing their operations.

IBM “Cognitive Food Advisor” – How many people worked on that name at IBM?

The bigger platform players like SAP, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Toshiba came to NRF this year with the clear goal of being able to do everything asked of them by modern retailers. But it was hard to hear through the buzzwords to figure out what they really do best. They do a great job selling that they do everything from inventory and logistics, store management and commerce, as well as engaging digital experiences for both consumers and store associates. But it’s hard to be the best at everything, and it was difficult to identify the best in class at any single task.

IBM Watson was very impressive and exemplified the “we can do everything for you” approach. We walked away wondering how a retail store manager would understand the huge breadth of the technology they were selling under the “cognitive computing” umbrella of Watson. There is no doubt that a system like this offers tremendous value to a retailer, and can make the difference between success and failure, but it comes with a high price in time and cost to implement. For retailers looking to completely overhaul existing systems, this investment makes complete sense. If someone is looking to enhance existing systems, a better strategy is to tie together innovations that do certain things extremely well.

IBM’s “Booth of Everything”

For us, the real inspiration came from the smaller companies that are pushing the envelope of innovation. They are laser focused on changing the future of retail. Virtual reality seemed to have the biggest crowds. You could see the potential in the space as companies demoed virtual store concepts with virtual shelving, shopping, eye tracking to see what entices customers, and some cutting edge analytics.

Virtual and Augmented Reality were a big focus of the show.

Three companies stood out on the trade show floor in the VR space: Marxent LabsInVRsion, and In Context Solutions. All three had promising VR solutions tailored for retailers, with great potential for some creative applications and interface add-ons by agency partners like MJD.

Another technology that got a lot of attention from retailers was augmented reality, and yes, this included a few “magic mirror” options. These have grown up and are looking better since their early adoption days, most of which were poorly executed.

The magic mirrors seem to be targeted to specific industries, mainly beauty and fashion. This technology becomes powerful when it enables virtual trials of products such as clothing options or makeup. A good user interface applied to this hardware can reduce the difficulty of finding products that appeal to an individual, while opening up essentially unlimited options to them. We see this driving spontaneous purchases that will increase revenues. We left thinking that the user experience and interface hadn’t really been nailed yet, and this is going to be a key area of focus for MJD this year.

HP’s Magic/Mobile Experience at NRF 2017

Other interesting technologies that we feel could be worth exploring included the chatbot company Kore, RFID/NFC tools for consumer experiences by BlueBite, Augmented Reality Commerce company Augment and mobile commerce platform NewStore.

Overall the Big Show reinforced that there is no shortage of technologies and platforms at retailers disposal. The most thought provoking aspect of this is figuring out how it all connects and relates to one another in order to enhance the overall customer journey. What digital product or experience is most effective in engaging users in a meaningful way? Tackling those hard questions and building the resulting incredible products is what gets us excited at MJD. Thanks to NRF for putting on another successful Big Show and for all the inspiration it gave us.

MJD works with retailers and retail design firms to help decipher the legions of technology options available. For more MJD retail thought leadership please follow our retail innovation series: The Evolution of Retail.

Michael Maginnis

The MJD team attended the NRF Big Show last week and came away both inspired and a bit overwhelmed. We were inspired by the digital innovation happening in retail, with big and small players alike pushing the boundaries of technology. It felt a bit more like CES than the NRF shows of the past with virtual and augmented reality, cognitive computing, RFID, chatbots and plenty of cutting edge software options being sold as the savior to all retailers.

We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of options retailers have to choose from. This brings up important questions: What exactly does the software do; would this technology provide value to my organization; and what would it actually take to implement any of these options? How does someone weed through everything to find something that works? Well, we’ve taken a stab at that. The following technologies and services cut through the noise for us as viable options for retailers to utilize in process of modernizing their operations.

The Evolution of Retail, Pt. 4: Customer Expectations

The Evolution of Retail: Customer Expectations

Jeremy Duimstra

In the first few articles of our “Evolution of Retail” series, we looked at the importance of using strategy over tactics and shed some light on how to enhance the customer journey. Now that we’ve established those guidelines, we need to move on to figuring out what our customers expect from retailers. We will be looking at these wants and needs from a digital perspective, but will be highlighting the in-store design implications as they apply.

There is a great research study on customer expectations in retail that was conducted by PWC in 2016. We have used some of their findings as we’ve gathered our own conclusions around the digital implementations of the data.


Today’s consumers have more pricing information at their fingertips than ever before. The ability to check competing prices online, on phones, and in the store establishes firm expectations for retailers to be able to price match, and beat, the costs that are found on these different platforms. A good way to mitigate the constant demands to match and lower prices is to offer a level of service that customers can’t get elsewhere. This can include supplying exclusive goods, extraordinary satisfaction guarantees, and friction-free return policies. If price matching is still the only option, it is important to balance these losses with products that generate enough profit to cover them.


Customers expect items to be well stocked in the store. Largely, modern inventory systems and streamlined logistics are able to control and fix stock issues when they arise. If you’re a retailer with legacy systems that don’t fix supply issues, you need to replace them because you’re at a serious competitive disadvantage. However, if you have modern systems, and outliers occur that cause stock to run out, customers’ frustrations can be calmed if they are offered the option of ordering out-of-stock items via their phone or other in-store digital methods. When these alternative options are coupled with the guarantee of fast shipping, the customer’s goodwill towards the retailer can be maintained and the problem of these outliers is greatly diminished.


We’ve covered the immense benefits of omni-channel in previous articles, but it is worth mentioning again in this context. Consistency between channels is the key to the customer journey. Single-Sign-On is paramount to this effort – customers do not want to have to keep track of different logins for different platforms within the same store (website, app, loyalty programs etc.). The single-sign-on model can be elevated in the in-store implementation. Technology allows for cross-pollination between customers online actions and their brick and mortar experiences. If physical stores are aware of the statuses of their customers’ online shopping carts, they have the ability to physically guide customers to their unpurchased items in the store using their phones. Tying these experiences together seamlessly defies customers base expectations while vastly increasing sales across multiple platforms.

Mobile Commerce

The online shopping tool of choice is rapidly transitioning from desktop to mobile devices. According to Business Insider, mobile commerce will reach $284 billion, or 45% of the total U.S. e-commerce market, by 2020. Savvy retailers are creating mobile optimized shopping experiences that are able to deliver on their brand’s promises. Customers expect the same high-quality service that they get on a website, or in the store, on their mobile devices. For the digital landscape, this means that things must load quickly, have an easy-to-use interface, and evoke an emotional bond to the brand.


Customers are looking for social connections while they are shopping. From peer reviews to chatting with friends on the latest styles and trends, today’s shoppers are tapping into their friends and virtual communities for help in navigating product offerings.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) polled 22,618 digital buyers ages 18 and older. Respondents had shopped online at least once in the past year. Nearly half (45%) of digital buyers worldwide said that reading reviews, comments and feedback on social media influenced their digital shopping behavior. Some 44% of respondents also said that receiving promotional offerings also influenced their shopping behavior.

At MJD, we’re exploring innovative community technologies that can enhance these experiences. This can include things like building in-store digital experiences that connect to Facebook or a chat client to allow shoppers to get opinions from their friends and family before making purchases. These sorts of technologies are showing great promise.

Experiences not "things"

People, especially Millennials, want to buy experiences, not “things.” They want their money to be spent on a life well-lived, and digital has a big place in their lives. Digital experiences add new layers to the ways these millennials experience the retail world. Even the smallest of experiences can connect to customers on an emotional level to tell a powerful story.


Lastly, we want to touch on a very significant undercurrent of customer expectation in retail: speed. By and large, people want things NOW. Deloitte’s 2016 Holiday Survey says that customers in 2015 viewed “fast shipping” as anything within 3-4 days. In a single year, that figure dropped to within 2 days. This is how Amazon Prime is succeeding and, in turn, affecting all retailers. How do retailers compete? One suggestion is to use store design and logistics tools to turn community stores into miniature distribution centers. Combining this with courier services like Uber allows companies to compete, and beat, Amazon’s regional distribution center model.


Through our research, we’ve found that these are a few of the standout customer expectations in today’s retail marketplace. Some are more challenging than others, but using the right mix of digital innovation and store design to create ideal customer journeys is the way to compete in today’s retail marketplace.

MJD Retail Solutions

The Evolution of Retail, Pt. 3: Enhancing the Customer Journey

The Evolution of Retail: Enhancing the Customer Journey

Jeremy Duimstra

“Macy’s and Sears Holdings to close a combined 226 stores”
“Is There Any Saving Macy’s?”
“On the heels of Macy’s and Sears, another major department store announces it will close locations in 2017”
The headlines are dire. Retailers are worried. But the future of retail is bright for forward-thinking brands that are willing to embrace new ways of doing business. In our last post, we talked about omni-channel strategy and digital tactics in the ‘Store of the Future’. That’s the first place to look when a retail ecosystem needs fixing. In this article we will explore how customer journeys can be enhanced with new ideas and technology to increase sales and profit and, in turn, begin to fix the cracks in the retail world as we know it.Interested in the whole “Evolution of Retail” series? Sign up and we’ll let you know when each article is published. We’ll also send you a PDF of the entire series at its conclusion.When marketers realized that the final transaction wasn’t the only key metric in the purchasing funnel, the idea of curating customers’ journeys was born. By measuring every touchpoint along the funnel and giving proper attribution to each and every experience a customer had with a brand, marketers were able to see which ones resulted in sales. This very visibility into attribution, and uncovering the sales and ROI it converts, led to the realization that consumers hold the ultimate power during the customer journey. In an instant, a consumer can be very close to buying, and then disappear. E-Commerce pushed this visibility even further and allowed marketers to price check everything. The result was what retailers dreaded most: a downward race to the lowest possible price. To win this race, retailers are required to produce a high volume of sales while reducing the number of high cost of physical locations they are supporting. In essence, this is the Amazon model.This model is contributing to the woes of traditional retailers, and that is leading to a seismic shift in their operations.Retailers like American Girl, Nordstrom, and others are starting to lead with innovation within the customer journey in order to re-set the race to lowest price. They are creating value through digital software platforms, automation, and IT efficiencies to reduce overall costs. In doing so, they are crafting extraordinary, personalized brand stories that resonate with customers and inadvertently lead to increased purchasing.

Platform Design

One of the primary tactics we’ve used to create substantial retail business efficiencies is through something we call Platform Design. Platform Design lowers overall costs while making interactions with customers much more personal and enjoyable.

Most recently, we helped build customer journeys through platform design by combining a mobile application experience with dynamic inventory tracking, product suggestions, and consumer guides. The mobile app allowed users to customize a product, and buy appropriate accessories for their custom product. From there, we connected to a centralized inventory system that checks to see if all the components in the custom order are available and determines whether or not there was an excess of stock warehoused for any particular accessory. By using technology to detect inventory, dynamic pricing was used to discount the accessory for the client where necessary. Fulfillment was then able to electronically receive the order, build it automatically, and ship it to the client. At the tail end of the journey, the customer was able to further their interaction with the brand by being able to log into the brand’s website to obtain help in configuring the customized product. Through single sign-on, the system was capable of knowing exactly what was purchased and was able to serve up help videos to guide them through configuration. At the end of the journey, customers feel the thrill of a seamless and unique product experience. These emotions are what platform design zeroes in on and uses to tie consumers to brands.

To build on that, we’ve found that the journeys we are building aren’t limited to the online ecosystem. Using innovation to guide customers through physical stores is just as important. For the in-store customer we’ve taken this realization and built a mobile app that is capable of reading in-store beacons and triggering a CRM to obtain recent purchases from the customer. In addition to knowing past purchases, the app can entice in-store customers to make purchases outside of their typical buying patterns. If, for instance, the app is able to notify the customer that certain accessories purchased in the past are items that typically run out, we are able to provide an in-store map guiding them to the product where the customer will not only be tempted purchase the product, but purchase multiple products so that they do not run out. The effortlessness of the in-store  journey cultivates repeat customers using brand loyalty, just like it does for the online customer.


Automation is the process of replacing formerly manual activities with digital magic. It is another one of the key factors that makes enhancing customer journeys possible. A great example of this can be seen through our work with GoPro. A typical GoPro customer would go out surfing and capture some amazing video. They would get back to the parking lot, jump into their car and want to immediately share a 15 second clip of their surfing session on Instagram. In order to do that, they would have to manually plug the camera into their computer, download the files, edit them, and finally post them. This was a major pain point for customers. To alleviate this, we automated the process by using wifi to transfer the files to customers’ phones with no manual process necessary. Customers are now able to shred waves, get in their car, have the mobile app see their camera, magically downloads the files, edit and post to friends and family in seconds.

This is just one example of the plethora of ways that digital is automating the customer journey, but automation itself can be tricky. From a customer’s standpoint, automation either needs to be invisible or interesting. Technically, making automation invisible is difficult. You have to think through user experiences to make the technology disappear. That’s hard. But if you pull it off, the rewards are substantial. Automation that interests and delights is less technically demanding, but requires a strong experience on the part of the user. One of the best ways to create that sort of an experience is through personalization.


The days of broadcasting a marketing message to one monolithic group of customers have passed. Technology has allowed marketers to craft messages on a one-to-one basis between their brand and a single shopper. Personalization takes these messages a step further. In our work for retail clients, every part of the customer journey is personalized. Once a customer has created an account, the websites, mobile apps and physical stores they interact with all change for that particular person. When a customer walks into a store, they can be digitally welcomed by name. Or, a notification can be sent to a store associate who can give them a warm, human welcome and assist them. This allows for storytelling on a very intimate, human level. By bringing elements of joy to customers by making them feel special, we are providing increased lifetime value to brands through personalization.

According to a study by MyBuys and the e-tailing group, 40% of survey respondents said they buy more from retailers that personalize their shopping experience across channels. Based on sales data from MyBuys’ database of over 250 million shoppers, customer-centric marketing delivers a 25% increase in total online sales and a 300% improvement in customer lifetime value. (Datamentors, 2015)

Creating a personalized story for a customer’s journey requires context. This leads us to the final part of our customer journey: contextual interactivity.

Contextual Interactivity

Knowing where in the customer journey your customers actually are allows you to interact appropriately with them at a given time, in a given place. The “platform” mentioned above is the tool that allows that to happen. If, for example, a customer is on your website looking at a product for the third time, analytics and CRM can identify this and dynamically serve the right message to that person to get them past the tipping point of buying. On the other hand, if a customer is walking into a store for the first time, their context is vastly different that that of a loyal customer who visits the store regularly. Each customer is different, and should be offered contextual interactions that are personalized to their particular situation. The first time shopper could be welcomed via a digital display that shows them wayfinding through the store. The loyal shopper could get a text notification on their phone letting them know how many loyalty points they have, and that they’ve earned a free ‘favorite’ beverage (identified through POS analytics) at the store’s cafe. Context and personalization together form a powerful tool to build strong customer affinity for brands and round out the enhanced customer journey consumers are seeking.


Navigating the complexity of a retail world that is neither bound by brick and mortar or the world wide web is difficult. Consumers are seduced by quick, easy, and cheap solutions that are often detrimental to profit margins and growth. Meeting customers where there are in today’s landscape and watching their exploration within a brand is the key to getting out ahead of broken retail stores and/or clunky digital solutions. Using automation, personalization, and contextual interactivity to enhance a customer’s journey forms a bond with consumers that allows for innovation that will both surprise and delight them.

At the end of the day, it is innovation that we’re after. Innovation that is not only digital, functional, or creative – but, a combination of all three that bonds us together and allows us to grow.

MJD Retail Solutions