What We Learned at the 2018 Narvar Summit

If retailers want to win the hearts and minds of customers, they need to create experiences that are personal, authentic, and thoughtful. This was one of the prominent messages at our 2018 Narvar Summit, and the content and discussions shared throughout the day offered plenty of inspiration for how to think about and execute on just that.

At this year’s event, we hosted over 250 attendees representing 150+ brands and spanning 6 countries and 4 continents. It was incredible to see this group of retail and logistics pros come together to discuss how far we’ve come, where we are now, and what we can expect as we continue moving forward into the future.

It’s clear that post-purchase—the category we’ve established alongside the retailers who’ve built the movement with us—is maturing, and many people agree that bridging that gap in the customer journey is critical to success. The question on everyone’s minds now is: how do we take that opportunity to inspire loyalty beyond the transactional?

As this and other big questions were posed at Summit, three key themes kept popping up throughout the day: keeping up with the consumer-led revolution, “omnification, and how to strike a balance when it comes to AI.

See more photos from the event in our Facebook gallery.

The consumer-led revolution

It’s the glue that holds the entirety of retail together: the consumer. And in the age of Amazon and other digital conveniences, the consumer is calling for quite the revolution.

Consumer expectations are evolving faster than ever—it can feel impossible to keep up. Brian Gregg from McKinsey got things going with this thought: the consumer is changing the industry landscape in front of our eyes, and in order to get their end-to-end experiences right, we need to not just think about but obsess over her or him.

Several panelists, such as Ratnakar Lavu from Kohl’s and Danielle Quatrochi from Finish Line, reiterated this idea, focusing on how retailers can get ahead of the consumer-driven disruption happening in the industry today. Quatrochi spoke about how Finish Line is tackling this challenge by striving to deliver value outside of the transaction and creating more engaging experiences—better understanding what their customer segments are and then tailoring experiences to meet each of those segment’s needs. Anisa Kumar from Levi’s offered a real-world example from the company’s experience during this past peak season: they were able to get ahead of the influx of returns by making the experience as seamless as possible before the rush.

Another topic that came up time and again was how to use data to enhance customer experiences across the board, with a focus on asking the right questions to collect the right data, figuring out how to action on that data, and measuring and iterating on what you deliver. Everyone seemed relieved to hear that even the giants in the industry continue to grapple with making all this happen in their organizations.

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“Omnification”

Summit’s word of the day: omnification. John Stratford of Gap used the term to describe seamlessly bridging in-store and online experiences for consumers.

All day, there was a lot of talk about how—keeping the true end-to-end experience in mind—retailers need to figure out new and innovative ways to build experiences that put their customers at the center no matter where they shop for, purchase, or return products.

Anisa Kumar from Levi’s mentioned that the brand saw a significant cross-channel shift during this past peak season, with more customers buying online and returning to stores, and several other panelists talked about how their organizations are thinking about tackling this big omnichannel challenge: stitching together the physical and digital channels in a way that allows you to get better information about the consumer and thereby tailor better, more relevant experiences for him or her.

Striking a balance with AI

The hottest tech topic by far was around AI—specifically, how retail businesses can utilize artificial intelligence to a) better connect with and delight customers and b) automate more manual processes to create operational efficiencies.

Ratnakar Lavu of Kohl’s spoke about how it’s important to first consider the problem you’re trying to solve before investing in cool new technologies. Molly MacDougall from Ralph Lauren talked about the role that bots could play in supporting off-hours customer service inquiries. And IDEO CEO Tim Brown discussed how the term ‘artificial intelligence’ is unfair because what it’s actually doing is augmenting human capacity, not replacing it.

Clearly, everyone’s thinking about AI.

The general consensus seemed to be this: AI is playing an important role in how the retail industry operates, and that role will only continue to grow exponentially as both the technology and adoption curve mature. The big thing to consider in this tech-hungry landscape is how to strike the right balance between AI-driven efficiency and the irreplaceable human element.

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Full steam ahead into 2018

Amit wrapped up the show by presenting Narvar’s vision for 2018, focusing on how we as an organization are enabling retailers to provide those personal, authentic, and thoughtful experiences to customers throughout the entire end-to-end journey.

“It’s the connected experiences we all have to think about,” said Amit in his closing thoughts. “What drives loyalty? From our perspective, there are a few key areas to consider: how do you approach the initial consideration, how do you engage customers post-purchase, and how do you continue to solve for the ongoing and evolving needs of consumers in the long-term.”

Find out even more by checking out #NarvarSummit on Twitter.