National Retail Federation: Startups Share Top Retail Trends for 2019

Date Updated: Thursday, January 10, 2019

With National Retail Federation (NRF) 2019 just around the corner (January 13-15th) leading retailers from around the world will descend upon New York City to better understand the trends, challenges, and opportunities facing the industry.

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As startups are uniquely situated to help retailers understand emerging solutions, we’re excited to host an invite-only event where we’ll showcase ten leading retail-focused startups to over 100 of Microsoft’s largest retail customers. These young companies, who are dynamic by nature, are well suited to understand the disruptive trends coming down the pike. As part of my work at Microsoft, I had the opportunity to sit down with several of the founders taking part in the showcase. I wanted to hear what challenges they are facing, and the ways they are partnering with the rest of the retail industry to help it grow. From that conversation, three key themes emerged:

Digital and Mobile Experiences are Critical

Digital first generations are emerging as the driving force across multiple industries and retail is no exemption. So, it is no surprise that many of the startups I heard from are focusing intently on Digital Transformation and helping retail partners sharpen their mobile offerings.

Derek Smith, VP, Analytical Services at Prevedere:

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“Digitally native competitors will continue to take market share, but traditional retailers who have invested in omnichannel are paying off. Millennials will still shop at brick-and-mortars but are wanting more of an experience than has been traditionally offered.”

Ian Swartz, Enterprise Account Executive, at ZipWhip:

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“[Startups need to think about the following:] How do you make your brand mobile friendly? The percentage of purchases made via mobile are increasing at a rapid rate. Be digital first and customer-centric.”

In today’s environment, we see digital transformation as being critically important. Not only will this help your business compete with digital native competitors, but it can also provide an advantage against more traditional rivals. While digital transformation is a complicated challenge, startups are showing both the ability and the desire to help retail companies accelerate and focus that process.

Facing the Ecommerce Giants

Another common thread that ran throughout the conversations was concern about ways to compete with the ecommerce giants. I think this challenge only highlights the value of partnerships. The retail industry isn’t going to stave off this challenge by implementing one change or adopting a single innovative strategy. Rather, the sense amongst startup founders, is that the network effect of retailers partnering around innovation and common value will help even the playing field.

Arsen Avakian, Co-Founder and CEO at Cooler Screens:

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"We see an opportunity to reimagine the shopper experience by combining the power of digital into brick-and-mortar retail. Cooler Screens provides retailers and brands with a digital merchandising platform that gives them a unique competitive advantage over e-commerce giants.”

Swartz from ZipWhip added:

“There is a massive push to provide incredible customer service to compete with digital giants that can always win on price.”

Leveraging Physical Stores

Some of the startups I heard from identified physical stores as a strength that retail players need to use to their advantage. Startups can look at this strength as an opportunity to provide technological solutions:

Robin Martin, CEO at Intelligent Reach:

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“Start-ups need to recognize the mistakes that have been made and the current challenges facing retailers. Value must be delivered from whichever touchpoint the consumer chooses, whether that be mobile, PC, offline or offsite. Physical stores, if executed correctly, are an asset, not a burden. The winning retailers aren’t closing their stores; they’re doing the opposite.”

Hearing from these founders I was left with the sense that there is a tremendous opportunity to learn from startups – especially for professionals at larger corporations such as myself – about the way they approach building solutions. Specifically, retail startups understand that their solutions depend on building trust: in their technology and from their potential partners. That is a message that resonates with me on a deep level and is something that we focus on every day.

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