January 24, 2023

NRF Recap, Trends and Learnings

nrf 2023 recap


Andrea Lechner-Becker
Head of Marketing

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NRF wrapped last week and boy was the BIG SHOW back. With more than 30,000 attendees, over 900 exhibitors and three packed days of keynotes and sessions, our team is exhausted, but exhilarated by what we saw and the conversations we had. Here are the highlights from our unique perspective, starting with a quote from a Chief Operating Officer at a $500MM retailer, who told us:

“If I want to invest my entire budget into Oracle, I’ll go to the third floor. Instead, I’m looking to find companies laser-focused on solving our unique needs that want to truly partner with us.”

Omnichannel focus

Omnichannel was the overarching theme of the show. The brands that have not yet ventured into omnichannel were at the show to learn more and determine where to invest. Almost every technology or consultant exhibiting offered a solution that tied into this overarching theme. Yet, to the customer, they don’t see “channel” or think, “Wow, what a great omnichannel experience this was!” Instead, they see a brand through every unique interaction and how those touchpoints feel. The goal of countless retailers we met was how to connect it all together and make it feel seamless. 

The connected retail techstack

Data is ubiquitous for retailers. Everyone knows its importance and from the customer experience in-store to inventory planning, retailers are focused on making the most of the data they have. Yet, one of the leading pain points we heard over and over was the amount of time humans still spend managing the data. Teams struggle to reconcile wholesale bookings and sales data in a system, like Joor, with their DTC data in an ERP, like NetSuite. 

To resolve this, teams are prioritizing tools that integrate seamlessly into the technologies they already trust. Outcomes they expect with this approach:

  • Expedite speed to value
  • Maximize efficiency in human capital

One of the few sessions you can watch in-full, on-demand explains a recent study conducted by Google and Incisiv on the Unified Commerce Benchmark Index for Specialty Retail. Pro tip: if you are going to listen, they have mic issues, including a head-splitting mic feedback moment at 2:30, so be warned.

They explain what best-in-class retailers are doing to get ahead in the following areas:

  • Inventory Visibility
  • Frictionless Fulfillment
  • Cost & Payments
  • 360-degree Service

At the core of all areas? Data and connecting it throughout the business and the resulting customer experience.

First floor was bustling (especially by the Toolio booth)

NRF had three floors packed with booths. The third floor was where all the glitz and glamorous booths were. With higher ceilings, companies like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft invested in towering booths with all the bells and whistles. Meanwhile, down on Level one, smaller companies, with cozier booths, seemed to be bringing attendees more value, based on how much foot traffic we saw. 

Toolio’s booth was right in the thick of Level one and the conversations we had substantiated the attendee’s focus.

Toolio demo at the NRF BIG SHOW 2023

From big to small, issues are the same

Toolio has made a name for itself as the merchandise planning solution for high-growth DTC brands like Mack Weldon, Chubbies and MeUndies. Most retailers of that profile are using spreadsheets to manage financial planning through merchandising and eventually store planning. We were surprised to learn that even Sephora in 2019 was using spreadsheets for these purposes! In their session with Anaplan, they talked about their digital transformation journey. 

Now, it might seem strange for us to talk about a competitor’s success on our blog, but not all retailers can afford Anaplan’s cost of ownership from a technology perspective, but also from an implementation timeline perspective. As hundreds of retailers found out during NRF, Toolio provides retailers the same results, much faster and at a fraction of the cost.

Like Pierre Chambe, Sephora’s Director of Finance Transformation, Consolidation and Reporting (what a title!), reported: “{After implementing Anaplan}, the job has changed for the finance team, which now spends more time talking with business partners and scenario planning and has won a lot of time. It has freed them up from data crunching and tying up numbers.” 

This is the same value smaller retailers find in working with Toolio. 

Brands are looking for innovative partners

Ultimately, one of the main learnings from NRF for our team was that retail is constantly shifting with consumer behavior and it’s hard to keep up. That’s why retailers are looking to partner with teams and companies that have existing expertise in certain areas to help expedite their speed to value. 

At NRF, we announced the launch of our allocation module, which takes the merchandise, item and assortment planning our customers love and gives them the ability to now manage how those decisions flow in warehouses and stores. 

As Jenne Schwarz, Vice President of Merchandise Planning and Allocation at Rothy’s said, “We’ve worked closely with the Toolio team on the allocation module. We expect to see a huge boost in time savings, thanks to a team-wide increase in productivity. We’re especially enjoying the store/item level allocation forecasting and assortment management aspects of the tool, and are thrilled to continue using it to support our operations in the coming year.”

We’re thrilled about it, too, Jenne.

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