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3 Days of Retail Customer Experience Takeaways from NRF 2018

Mia McPherson
January 14, 2018

6 minute read

This week, the team was at NRF 2018, the National Retail Federation’s Big Show. Taking place in New York City at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, NRF is one of the largest and most anticipated retail events each year, and showcases the latest in retail customer experience trends and technology innovations.

We walked the floor, attended sessions, and spoke with experts to bring you the latest in retail for 2018 and beyond. Here are some of the top retail CX takeaways that we learned at NRF 2018.

NRF 2018 Day 1: Retail Customer Experience Takeaways

The theme of the day seemed to be balance: balancing expectations and reality, balancing innovation and foundations, and balancing the expected and the unexpected to produce the greatest possible retail customer experience.

Among the many sessions that took place on day 1, two that highlighted a healthy balance in retail CX included “Learn from Levi’s: How the 150-year-old startup continues to transform its iconic brand” and “Rock star entrepreneurs and the next generation of retail”.

Levi's session at NRF 2018

James “JC” Curleigh of Levi’s at NRF 2018, courtesy of NRF

“Learn from Levi’s”

Levi’s Executive Vice President James “JC” Curleigh achieved the perfect balance of short and sweet in his 30 minute session on how the 150-year-old brand has stepped up its efforts in recent years to remain culturally engaged, deliver the expected, bring the unexpected, and create value.

To remain relevant and highly sought-after to the modern consumer while staying true to its value and roots, it’s all about balance for Levi’s. According to Curleigh, delivering the expected to a Levi’s customer is about having the right sizes, the right fit, the proper distribution channels, and great customer service. But to thrive, Levi’s also had to bring the unexpected.

During his presentation, Curleigh played Levi’s recent ad campaign and commercial, “Live in Levi’s“, featuring people and cultures from around the globe dancing in “dance circles” — with many dancers wearing their Levi’s. According to Curleigh, not only did the commercial become a top ad on YouTube, but the music featured in the ad, a song called “Makeba”, topped the Shazaam charts and launched the career of artist Jain — an unexpected and effective approach to connecting with consumers on new levels.

Entrepreneurs talk retail customer experience at NRF

Rockstar entrepreneurs panelists at NRF 2018, courtesy of NRF

“Rockstar entrepreneurs and the next generation of retail”

This session featured four entrepreneurs sharing their retail success stories, including Dan Levitan, former investment banker turned venture capitalist and founder of Maveron, which has invested in companies from Starbucks to Shutterfly. One of Dan’s top messages: entrepreneurial success requires a balance of brain and heart — great brands resonate emotionally but also harness the quantitative to truly stand out.

Manish Vora, Co-Founder of Museum of Ice Cream, may not have found a personal balance in ice cream consumption (he said sometimes he eats ice cream three times a day), but he seems to have found a harmony of passion and strategy in creating exceptional experiences. Fascinated by what he noticed to be a trend in gourmet ice cream among millennials, Manish set out to create an immersive experience at the Museum of Ice Cream where adults can play like kids. It’s not only attracted the attention millennial consumers but some influencers, too. Just check #museumoficecream. Yet Manish says, “We’ve never spent a dollar on advertising and marketing.”

&pizza talks retail customer experience at NRF 2018

Michael Lastoria of &pizza at NRF 2018, courtesy of NRF

Michael Lastoria, Co-Founder, CEO, and Creative Director of &pizza, has married the concept of quality pizza and community involvement to create what he calls a cultural movement of diversity, unity, and connectedness. &pizza shops are all designed uniquely, as the company works with local artists and partners in an effort to create a true reflection of the community in its restaurants. Michael was also named to NRF Foundation’s List of People Shaping Retail’s Future 2018.

Marcia Kilgore is a serial entrepreneur and creator of successful brands including Bliss Spa, Soap & Glory, FitFlop, and her latest, Beauty Pie, which seeks to balance luxury with affordability. Harnessing her experience in the cosmetics industry, Marcia describes Beauty Pie as the “Netflix of luxury cosmetics”, where consumers subscribe to the service in order to purchase luxury cosmetics at factory cost, eliminating costly markup. In Marcia’s words, great brands are “equal parts magic and logic”.

NRF 2018 Day 2: Customer Experience Takeaways

Day 2 of NRF was full of customer experience innovations, starting with a tour of the new Ulta Beauty store in the Upper East Side of Manhattan and ending with an up-close look inside the @OracleFreeRides Tesla.

Ulta Beauty Tour NRF 2018

Heading into the new Ulta Beauty store in the Upper East Side of Manhattan


Oracle Free Rides Tesla NRF 2018

Getting into the Oracle Free Rides Tesla with SmarterCX teammate Paul Leone

But like Marcia Kilgore said, great brands are equal parts magic and logic. So in addition to taking in the magic of innovations at NRF, we also gathered some interesting data and insights on CX and the retail industry.

“Retail economic roundtable: a preview into 2018”

This session, hosted by Jack Kleinhenz of the National Retail Federation and featuring Gad Levanon, Chief Economist, North America for The Conference Board, and Brian Nagel, Managing Director and Senior Analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. Equity Research, was all about the numbers.

Jack, Gad, and Brian recapped the holiday 2017 shopping season, which Jack described as a “stellar, vibrant holiday season” thanks in part to strong job growth, higher home values, stock price increases, and a 3.5% increase in disposable income among Americans in 2017.

Retailers also did their part, according to Jack, with effective use of holiday discounts and advertising which sparked a sense of shopper urgency, effective use of omnichannel strategies including buy online and pick up in store, which was hot this holiday season, and effective staffing and inventory strategy.

According to Gad, the US economy also received a boost from a strong global economy in 2017, with no major economic crises occurring throughout the past year.

As Brian put it, coming out of the 2017 holiday season, investors were relieved and downright “giddy”. Holiday reports topped expectations, consumers spending crossed the threshold from “good” into “great”, and traditional retailers “held their own” against giants like Amazon.

All in all, the panel agreed that the 2017 holiday season was a success. Looking into 2018, factors affecting retail and consumer spending include new tax legislation, which the panel generally agreed would create positive outcomes for businesses in the short term, and for the long term will remain to be seen.  

NRF 2018 Day 3: Customer Experience Takeaways

Day 3 at NRF 2018 was all about the people and teams behind the innovative, creative customer experiences driving the future of retail.

The SmarterCX team and I interviewed 15+ retail and customer experience gurus from organizations like Oracle, Adyen, McFadyen Digital, Mirakl, and more.

Oracle chatbot demo at NRF 2018

Oracle’s Jon Brown shows SmarterCX teammate Jared Nelson and I the latest chatbot technology

They spoke with us about the technologies that are exciting them, retail trends that are driving innovation, and their advice for retailers to have a successful 2018. They showed us demos of the latest digital experiences like chatbots and AI, discussed the history and evolution of customer experience, and gave us a glimpse of exciting, upcoming product innovations.

Chatting with Janett Liriano, CEO of Loomia, for SmarterCX's upcoming Women in Tech series

Janett Liriano, CEO of Loomia, shares her success story and demos new fashion tech for SmarterCX’s upcoming Women in Tech series

To round out the full experience of NRF, SmarterCX reporters Grace Cary and Brittany Schmigel documented their journey from the office to NRF in the Oracle Free Rides Tesla, and interviewed Monica, the driver of the Tesla, on the innovative features of the car, the excitement of her passengers, and even some NYC trivia.

The passion of these CX professionals who are creating and delivering the next generation of customer experience is indicative of their commitment to helping their customers succeed, to meet and exceed the needs of consumers, and to drive exceptional retail experiences that will shape the way we shop and interact for years to come.

Check back with and @SmarterCX on Twitter as we share video interviews and additional insights from NRF 2018. And if you can’t wait for the next big CX conference experience, check out our events calendar to find an upcoming event near you.

Mia McPherson
Mia McPherson is a lover of cats, community involvement, and Pittsburgh sports. Mia is the Editor-in-Chief of and has been working with talented teams to create content for the media, publishing, and technology industries for 15 years. by Oracle is the destination for professionals who are building the next generation of customer experience. Here, you can find breaking news, in-depth analyses, expert insights, and useful tools that will empower you to think and work progressively.