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"Things that excited me" - from NRF The Big Show 2023

Image credit: Jason Dixson

Guest Article | Philippa Ward - Head of Ecommerce, Harvey Norman

We are delighted to have Harvey Norman, Head of Ecommerce Philippa Ward provide her insights on what excited her at The Big Show. Philippa has an extensive digital and ecommerce background having worked across many industries from retail, telco, banking and local government. Sh is incredibly astute and keeps abreast of what's leading the way in digital and retail transformation.


The NRF Big Show is an annual retail conference held in NYC covering retail tech and thought leadership from top North American suppliers and retailers. This year they also had a Consumer Product Showcase to give small, predominantly minority-owned, businesses a chance to show their products. Covid didn’t stop the show from being a big event with over 30,000 attendees, but the post-Covid retail landscape was a big theme.

I was there in my role as Head of Ecommerce for Harvey Norman NZ, but also checked out general tech and CX trends. Things that excited me were:

The changing role of stores

With a focus for the last three years on online experiences the focus has moved back to stores. With a new appreciation for how quickly retailers can pivot, many retailers are dramatically rethinking what customers want from their physical presence. Stores became fulfilment centres over lockdowns and most retailers are dedicating more floor space to click and collect and curb-side pick-ups with the remainder of the store focussing on brand experiences - for example Petco has transformed itself from a pet store to a pet wellness centre.

Unified commerce over omni-channel

Several retailers talked about no longer creating channel strategies, but focussing on intuitive interactions. Creating great brand experiences and then letting customers transact seamlessly however they choose - of course that only comes from having the right tech stack. While on one hand, when a customer wants to give you their money you need to get out of their way and take it, there was also discussion about how fast the online checkout process needs to be - if you are able to present customers with different delivery and collection options and be transparent about stock levels that will enhance the experience and customers are ok with that.

Optimising supply chain

With supply still restricted, retailers talked about diversifying the countries they are manufacturing in. They are also introducing new tech that allows them to more accurately allocate stock to each store or region and route orders to ensure that customers can get products as quickly as possible and to reduce aged inventory. Several large retailers spoke about investing in this area along with better technology to allow salespeople and customers to have clear visibility of stock location and quickly share updates between stores.

The importance of community

There is a strong desire to continue the community building that was created during the pandemic. This means allowing stores to do more community initiatives, local pricing, and supporting local suppliers. Companies that haven’t empowered store managers in that way before are doing more so now.

AI was everywhere

Everyone wanted to tell you how their products used AI but the retailers who have really invested in AI tools were quick to say that it needs to enhance the role of staff, making it easier for your teams to do their job - present them with information to assist a customer, or assist with a purchase journey. It will be interesting to see how AI use changes over the next 12 months.

Recession busting

The large North American retailers are facing the same economic headwinds as us but didn’t seem to be using it as a time to cut spending, instead the main theme was identifying your superusers and focussing on what they need from you - using loyalty to weather the storm and doubling down on customer experience.

The Big Show is well worth adding to your budget for next year. It was a great opportunity to chat to tech providers and make quick comparisons between tools because everyone is under the same roof. Also, the chance to hear the CEOs and senior leaders from companies such as Walmart, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Target speak candidly about how they approached retail during and post Covid was fascinating.


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