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Episode 240
January 28, 2022

The Big Show Must Go On

Phillip and Brian are back from NRF 2022 and filling you in on all the things you missed by not being there: An Amazon Go pop up, AI for the metaverse, and even some constructive feedback for what could be done better for NRF 2023.

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this episode sponsored by

A Pop-Up Amazon Go?

  • Overall, health safety was top of mind for everyone
  • “The safety protocols and the vaccine protocols worked very well for this event, and I think it proves we can have large scale events even if they're lightly attended.” - Phillip
  • The shining star of NRF ‘22 was the innovative Amazon Go Pop Up Store on the main floor, providing attendees with convenient snacks and needs.
  • Maybe they should consider hosting it a different weekend? Not MLK weekend…
  • “Prior to the 90s, there was the age of clientele and glamor to retail that NRF to some degree represented.” - Brian
  • “Ecom can be an invisible industry. And you know what that's doing? It's taking the glamor out of the industry.”- Brian

Phillip: [00:00:22] Hello and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about the next generation of commerce. I'm Phillip.

Brian: [00:01:17] And I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:01:19] This is going to be our least listened to episode of the year. This is the obligatory recap of the trade show that you never went to. I know because I was there and none of you were.

Brian: [00:01:33] {laughter} You know what's so funny? I think this is going to be one of our most listened to shows because people are going to be like, "So how was it?" They're going to want to know.

Phillip: [00:01:41] True, that's true.

Brian: [00:01:42] Because they weren't there.

Phillip: [00:01:45] I'm going to replay a great moment in sports history, which is, "It was what we thought it was."

Brian: [00:01:59] They were who we thought they were.

Phillip: [00:02:01] It was what we thought it was. It was exactly... Whatever you thought NRF 2022 was going to be, it was exactly what you thought it was going to be. So we're going to talk about... Here's how we're going to do this, Brian. We're going to do the top five things we loved about NRF 2022. So we're going to start with that. So we're going to do sort of like good, the meh, and the ugly. Then we're going to go into a little bit of side observations about some things that we felt like were notable. And then we're going to go into a very small and very measured critique of things that we feel like could stand some improvement, which we will lovingly call "The things we hated about NRF 2022." We didn't enumerate them. {laughter}

Brian: [00:02:49] We'll try to keep it as short measured. How's that?

Phillip: [00:02:55] Just in general, I don't want to pan an event or dog it, especially in such perilous times.

Brian: [00:03:03] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:03:04] But there is plenty to talk about otherwise. So I felt like let's focus on the positives.

Brian: [00:03:10] Can I kick this off?

Phillip: [00:03:12] I would love for you to kick it off.

Brian: [00:03:14] It wasn't an online event. Oh oh. People. New York. Not an umitigated disaster like it was last year.

Phillip: [00:03:28] For those who don't have the context who maybe have never, ever been part of NRF's Big Show. Why was last year an unmitigated disaster?

Brian: [00:03:38] Let me start. Let me start with saying NRF is... It's called the Big Show, and it is the Big Show. And if you've been listening to our show for any period of time, you would know that we...

Phillip: [00:03:49] Yeah, we call ourselves "The biggest show," just TM, just saying.

Brian: [00:03:56] {laughter} And it really is big. It's really a big deal.

Phillip: [00:04:02] It's a big dang show.

Brian: [00:04:03] We love the NRF. We love the show. I mean, we love it because it represents the industry.

Phillip: [00:04:07] I love it, Matt Shay. My boy. We love you. President of the National Retail Federation. Give us a call.

Brian: [00:04:18] It's huge.

Phillip: [00:04:20] Yeah, but the online version of the event last year left a lot to be desired, I think, as well.

Brian: [00:04:27] Yeah, yeah. Last year, our media passes, they canceled media, one on ones. Like because they couldn't. It was technically it just couldn't work.

Phillip: [00:04:38] Due to a technical issue. There was there was a technical issue with the online meeting platform that nobody got to...

Brian: [00:04:46] Was it nobody?

Phillip: [00:04:47] I believe they just canceled everybody's oh one on ones.

Brian: [00:04:51] Oh, wow. I thought it was just the media. But okay.

Phillip: [00:04:54] I believe that they just had issue after issue, after issue. And that's sort of what... I'm going to agree with you.

Brian: [00:05:01] Yeah, thank you, NRF. Thank you. So instead of dumping on last year, thank you NRF for having your event.

Phillip: [00:05:11] Yes.

Brian: [00:05:13] You weren't the sort of the sacrificial lamb that poor Retail X was last year.

Phillip: [00:05:20] Sure.

Brian: [00:05:22] But you did kick off 2022 and said, "We believe in in-person, and we believe in moving forward." And that was the tough thing to do. It really was.

Phillip: [00:05:30] Very tough, very tough. So there's a couple of things I want to say about this. Number one, last year's Big Show online was not the only thing NRF did all year long. They also had a sort of a reboot event. I forget what they called it, Day One or something.

Brian: [00:05:49] Day One, yeah, yeah.

Phillip: [00:05:51] Was it called Day One? That's an Amazon thing.

Brian: [00:05:54] Oh, no, no, no, no. It was something One. It was something One.

Phillip: [00:05:57] I don't remember. It was very forgettable. But they had another digital event. They've done this a couple of times, and you got to give them credit for trying. And I cannot even imagine the kinds of challenges that they had to overcome to put on either of those events. And it's, you know, this is not a desirable situation for anybody. So let's just kind of, I just want to make sure that everyone understands that we...

Brian: [00:06:22] Can we slow clap them? This is a slow clap moment. {slow clapping}

Phillip: [00:06:25] {slow clapping} Yeah, goodness, goodness, you know? Hey, you tried. Congrats.

Brian: [00:06:32] I want to slow clap that they did this. They did this.

Phillip: [00:06:35] But there's a couple of things that I think are really important. Number one, when you work in retail, especially in critical infrastructure, let's say, in grocery and in pharmacy, these are parts of critical infrastructure, and we have essential workers that cannot not go to work. This was a through line for the Groceryshop event back in October. A lot of the conversation was, you know, "Work from home remote." Honey, we never stopped working. Like grocery, never worked from home. We never closed our office down because you can't close your corporate office down while your frontline employees are required to show up every day and put themselves in harm's way to serve the public. And I think to have a strong showing of support from Mayor Eric Adams, number one, to say, "We are keeping New York City open for business. We're going to do this as safely as possible. We're going to move forward despite the challenges, and we're going to find a way to have events in the city and continue to keep the city operational and do so to the best of our ability with the safety that we can put into place." And it seems right now, I mean, if you at least look at the numbers, it's only a week later. It seems that New York City is still in the midst of a downward trend following the spike of Omnicron in the month of December. So, you know, all that said, I think the number two bright spot... Number one, it wasn't online. Thank you, Brian. Number two, I think the safety protocols and the vaccine protocols worked very well for this event, and I think it proves we can have large scale events even if they're lightly attended. Large scale comma lightly attended. We can have these events if we have the proper infrastructure in place to be able to support it. There were wristband checks at the door. To get a wristband required you to have the Clear app installed, which required proof of vaccination. It was all very, very fast and seamless as far as I'm concerned. And then as soon as you walk in the door boom, there's a a check in desk to pick up your antigen tests so you can have the rapid test. There were PCR tests available outside the Javits and at the hotels for the event hotels. I felt like every part of the safety infrastructure at the event itself was wonderfully done. And I can't imagine how it could not have been because otherwise this event would not have happened.

Brian: [00:09:28] Speaking of PCR tests. Not only were their PCR tests when you walked in the door, there were PCR tests everywhere. They were like down every aisle. It was like the house swag.

Phillip: [00:09:43] Oh, sorry, you're talking about the rapid antigen tests.

Brian: [00:09:46] I'm sorry, rapid antigen test. That's what I meant to say. Rapid antigen. antigen tests were everywhere. Sorry.

Phillip: [00:09:55] I posted a picture sort of the contrast of like 2018 we had fidget spinners at trade shows. 2022 we have, you know, at home viral tests, which you know. And Brian, no offense. You look like a guy who could withstand a high viral load, my friend.

Brian: [00:10:18] Is that a compliment? I'm not sure.

Phillip: [00:10:21] In 2022 it is. You look like you have the constitution of a man who could bear a very high viral load.

Brian: [00:10:27] I did have COVID earlier this year or last year. Last year, I should say.

Phillip: [00:10:31] I did as well. Last year as well. I spent my COVID quarantine for 10 days playing Metroid Dread, and that was ok. I made it through.

Brian: [00:10:41] I did not play Metroid Dread, but I think I podcasted most of it.

Phillip: [00:10:49] We did. We had a number of shows. What enabled me to come to this show and took away some of my fears of coming to the show was the fact that I was fully vaxxed, boosted, and had just had COVID in the last 90 days. And if I hadn't had all of those three, I'll be honest with you, I might have been very hesitant to make the trip to New York to come to this show. And based on attendance, and this is no data and a sample size of one, almost everybody that I met at the show was from the New York metro area. Very few people...

Brian: [00:11:36] I should say...

Phillip: [00:11:37] Outside of exhibitors.

Brian: [00:11:38] Yeah, outside of exhibitors. Exactly. And I also feel like a lot of people that I talked to were in your situation where they had had COVID and they felt really kind of invincible.

Phillip: [00:11:51] I think you mean our situation?

Brian: [00:11:53] Yeah. Yeah. I guess our situation.

Phillip: [00:11:59] Don't other me.

Brian: [00:12:00] Sorry.

Phillip: [00:12:00] Let's keep moving. Top five things. Do you have something to contribute here?

Brian: [00:12:05] Yeah, yeah. So interesting. Interesting note. So normally there's usually three floors that NRF occupies during the conference. There's the basement, which is where the want to be on the second floor are living and it's dimly lit often. And it's a place that you go and you kind of you may have to avoid eye contact with some people.

Phillip: [00:12:41] It's not even like an exaggeration. It is dimly lit. It is like there are there's like a red light district of the basement at the Javits.

Brian: [00:12:51] There's like the lit part and then there's like the dimly lit part.

Phillip: [00:12:57] And yeah, when I wrote in the notes, "The basement was lit."

Brian: [00:13:03] So we're going to get to that. We're going to get to the joke. The joke is coming back around in a second.

Phillip: [00:13:08] It's true, though, that half the basement was dark.

Brian: [00:13:11] The lights were on but sort of. Sort of on. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:13:14] The lights were on, but nobody was home.

Brian: [00:13:17] So there's the second floor, which is where all the money goes, right? All the money goes. It's the Big Show.

Phillip: [00:13:26] It's the Big Show. It's exactly what you would think it would be. It's like they build like a literal three story house as, or an actual J.Crew is installed in the middle of the upstairs at the Javits. It's a sight to behold.

Brian: [00:13:44] Intel's booth is like a mini booth section normally. It's like one giant booth with multiple booths within it. It's huge.

Phillip: [00:13:56] It is huge. It has its own... You go there and there's like a there's... You know what? I don't need... I can't even find the joke. Let's just move on. It's big. And it doesn't matter.

Brian: [00:14:10] The third floor, the third floor is usually like the cool floor. You're like big in the middle floor. You're kind of a wanna-be if you are in the basement, and on the third floor, it's all innovation and startup and awesome.

Phillip: [00:14:23] That's typically where the Innovation Stage is, right?

Brian: [00:14:26] That's where the cool people hang out.

Phillip: [00:14:28] It's the only area... This is the interesting thing about the Javits. And if you're not familiar with this very large conference center, that's ok. The way that they program the talks and the sort of like main stage keynotes and such and all the breakouts, it's not quite part of the event in that you have to make a decision to go there. Like you could easily go to the Big Show and Expo only and never even know that, you know, Kofi Annan was keynoting or in this case, who was it that dropped? Was it Jessica Alba?

Brian: [00:15:15] Yeah, I think so. Somebody like that. There was a big drop.

Phillip: [00:15:19] Very memorable, I don't know. And that, by the way, is a total aside. But when I tried to attend three talks, every one of them were canceled because of no shows, basically due to cancelations from the panelists. And that is a hazard of the current environment, right? Occupational hazard of COVID times and running a... By the way, running a conference that requires big corporate speakers to sort of like flex your muscle of like, "We're the NRF," unfortunately, it's all the big corporates that want nothing to do with these kind of events because they're all playing it safe because of HR policies...

Brian: [00:16:09] Hold up. I want to get to that. Hold on.

Phillip: [00:16:13] We went away from the basement.

Brian: [00:16:16] I have an observation that I want to make here. So this is part of the thing that I thought was cool. So what they did was this year they took the cool kids from the third floor and they put them at the back of the basement.

Phillip: [00:16:32] That's right.

Brian: [00:16:33] You had to walk through the whole basement to get to the Innovation Alley or whatever it's called. And I think what the result was that the basement was where it was at this year.

Phillip: [00:16:47] There was a lot of foot traffic downstairs, which never happens. You don't ever go down there on purpose. You go down there and you're like, "Wait, where am I?" That's typically how it goes.

Brian: [00:17:00] You go down there because you like, there's one booth you know you got to get to and you like, avoid on eye contact with everyone on the way, right?

Phillip: [00:17:07] You try. And so and they're throwing COVID tests at you. They're like, "Get your hand sanitizer."

Brian: [00:17:14] No. But this year, this year, it was like, oh, wow, like the basement had a hum.

Phillip: [00:17:21] It was humming.

Brian: [00:17:22] People talking. People were going down there all the time on purpose. It was like a speakeasy for the main floor. It was like, "You got to get down there." You got to show your special colored badge to get in. And when you're in, you're in.

Phillip: [00:17:41] And like, All right, all right. It's you're making it sound way cooler than it actually was.

Brian: [00:17:44] It was. It's still a lot of like missing booths.

Phillip: [00:17:47] It's sort of like mixing two things together. The basement for the first time was kind of the cool place. And that is because, basically number four, one of the top things we loved is that the Innovation Alley, that innovation area grows every year. And I remember when we did our first mini series coverage four or five years ago at NRF, we did a number of interviews on that show floor. We talked to everybody in the Innovation Lab area and there weren't many. There were like eight or 10 booths-ish.

Brian: [00:18:29] There might have been a couple more than that, but I agree with you. The Innovation Lab continues to be a bright spot at NRF. And this year was no exception.

Phillip: [00:18:38] It felt bigger than it ever has this year. And I'll tell you that it was the only place that seemed to turn out near 100 percent attendance of exhibitors in that area. And I think when you compare that with the relative ghost town that the upstairs corporates, the big enterprise spaces were, it really shows you how skewed the COVID curve has been towards enterprises who are able to sort of play it safe and not have to participate in things like this. And the SMBs, who really depend on a show like this to even be able to exist for the next quarter or two. Trade show season is what fills the funnel for BDRs that work at all these SaaS companies.

Brian: [00:19:31] Yep.

Phillip: [00:19:31] You have to have... Like I don't think they can survive for the next 12 months with another COVID, like what we had for conferences in 2020 and 2021. How do you continue on? So yeah. That was very apparent to me.

Brian: [00:19:54] Yeah, totally. So that was good. That was a good thing. So I think the other thing that was great about the event was that it stayed in New York, and I will complain about something in a second when we get to things that we didn't like, but about maybe the timing. But the thing that I do think, this show belongs in New York. And if they moved it somewhere else, there were great retail experiences and dining experiences to be had. And I went to Gramercy Tavern for the first time,  you and I did, and that was incredible. I've been wanting to go there forever. I'd never been there before.

Phillip: [00:20:39] I've heard for many years about the tasting menu at the Gramercy. And it's a big deal.

Brian: [00:20:46] Yeah, it was great. You went and visited Hudson Yards, right?

Phillip: [00:20:52] I did. Just to, before I shift gears. The fact that I remember coming to the show in like 2012, 2011/2012 and back then it was like basically one hundred percent like a vending machine and cash register vendors. Like eCommerce had this very, very, very, very small footprint. Tech had a very small footprint at a show like this. So this show has changed tremendously, but it's not the only thing that has changed. The programing of the show has changed. The neighborhood around the Javits has changed dramatically. Hudson Yards in particular has really changed that area to be more destination than it used to be. And the fact is that you can walk across the street from the Javits and go see experiential retail like in person at Hudson Yards. I had an opportunity to do that. The subway station there, the seven, that's now the Hudson Yards train stop is incredibly convenient to get to now, and it used to be the Javits was kind of a pain in the rear to get to. But it's extremely easy to get to now. And I'll tell you it really changes that event for me to be able to get in and out. One of the things that it also changes the event for is the way that exhibitors at the Big Show message and program their out of home advertising to appeal to the merchants and the retailers and technologists that are in town for the event, but also to appeal to the luxury living and dining and shopping that happens at Hudson Yards. And so one of the things I found really interesting was the out of home buy that Bolt did the Hudson Yards station, and they chose to put a ton of money, and Lord knows they've got a bunch of it to spend, that's a whole other story. We are recording this now on the 25th of January. I don't want anyone to think that we aren't aware of the Twitter shenanigans, but we have good friends at Bolt. Ian Leslie in particular, and that company has a very bright future. One of the things I'm really impressed with is the way that they sort of positioned their out of home to broad consumer and as opposed to, say, Fast, who only exhibited inside the Javits at the show with the same familiar shtick that they have been doing, which is, "Get a scarf for a dollar." Seeing these two companies kind of duke it out, not on the same turf, but with very different tactics being employed, but with similar, in a similar vein, but trying to appeal to two different audiences was kind of a masterclass in VC funding. I don't know.

Brian: [00:27:05] Also speaking of Fast scarves...

Phillip: [00:27:08] Did you get one?

Brian: [00:27:10] No, but they had a bunch of signage that directed people to a booth that wasn't there.

Phillip: [00:27:14] Yeah, the booth wasn't there. In fact, "the booth wasn't there," was kind of a common refrain, wasn't it?

Brian: [00:27:18] Yeah, it really was. It wasn't just Fast. I don't want to pick on them. That feels like there was a lot of signage for booths that were not there.

Phillip: [00:27:26] Yeah. In particular, there was a "Hey, pick up your lunch box," situation...

Brian: [00:27:34] Yeah, that was that was uncomfortable.

Phillip: [00:27:38] Yeah. So if you...

Brian: [00:27:41] You needed a voucher for food and all the signs directed you to a booth to a vendor that was supposed to hand out these vouchers, but they weren't there.

Phillip: [00:27:52] But the vendor wasn't there. And you know, what is insane is that the booths immediately flanking that empty vendor booth were like cleaning up. They were lead scanning everybody that came there looking for a voucher.

Brian: [00:28:07] "You want a food voucher? Well, let me give you a water bottle instead."

Phillip: [00:28:12] "Let me tell you about how we're transforming customer experience." Anyway.

Brian: [00:28:21] You know, actually the biggest winner here, as far as booths go, wasn't even a booth. It was Amazon.

Phillip: [00:28:30] This is a big deal. This will be 5a of the top five things we loved at NRF.

Brian: [00:28:38] They had a pop up Amazon Go store.

Phillip: [00:28:44] Say that again, because I feel like people weren't really paying attention.

Brian: [00:28:48] Amazon had a pop up.

Phillip: [00:28:51] Yes.

Brian: [00:28:53]  [00:28:52]Amazon, just walk out, Go store, where you can walk in, grab your snacks and food and drinks and whatever you needed and walk out. And that was in the main hall. When you first walk into the doors of the Javits, you turn and you look and Amazon's right there saying, "Oh, you're talking about retail? You know who's doing retail and being really innovative about it? Us. They don't have a booth, but we do have a store that we've popped up in the hall." [00:29:24]

Phillip: [00:29:25] It was so convenient. I went there twice, and it was stocked, man. I mean, it was a convenience store. They had snacks that are refrigerated section. They had sandwiches. They had salads. They had, you know, bottled coffee. I spent a lot of money. I spent some money. Not a lot of money.

Brian: [00:29:46] I'm an idiot.

Phillip: [00:29:46] I spent like 40 bucks there.

Brian: [00:29:48] I'm an idiot and I went to Starbucks and stood in line instead, and I am the definition of an idiot because I did it multiple times.

Phillip: [00:29:58] You know better than to go to Starbucks at the Javits.

Brian: [00:30:01] I know. What was I thinking? And I was with people and I guess standing in line with people's more fun than like walking out with them, I don't know. Maybe not. Anyway, they messed up my order every time, and I'm just I can't believe I did that.

Phillip: [00:30:16] I'm so sorry for you. My condolences. A couple other random observations. Has Amazon ever been at the show in that sort of a way?

Brian: [00:30:32] Not like that.

Phillip: [00:30:32] I know Amazon Pay has been.

Brian: [00:30:35] And marketplaces. Like 3pl selling. AWS.

Phillip: [00:30:41] Yeah.

Brian: [00:30:42] Yeah, they've been there. They've been there a few times.

Phillip: [00:30:45] This was a flex.

Brian: [00:30:49] It was a weird flex. It was a genius flex. But the weird part about it was like, I don't think there was an Amazon booth. It was just like, "Hey, we're Amazon. You just actually buy stuff from us."

Phillip: [00:31:03] All right. A few just random notes that I have written down. One, the only mention of Metaverse, but it was very Metaverse lite. I really can't say that the word Metaverse was even used in the signage.

Brian: [00:31:19] No, no. Hold on. Keep going with your thing.

Phillip: [00:31:23] Come on. You're cutting me off.

Brian: [00:31:23] I'm cutting you off. But there was more Metaverse than this.

Phillip: [00:31:25] No, I'm saying like the biggest mention of, "Hey, the Metaverse and commerce intersection is here and you could do it today," was from Unity. I saw Unity at NRF, which I'm sure that they've been there before. I'm sure they have. I have never noticed Unity, the 3D platform company that's powering all kinds of things, including cinema these days. But the fact that they were there and sort of touting their ability to do product visualization and specifically VR environment generation, it sounds like they were kind of positioning themselves for a future eventual Metaverse offering that I'm sure everybody will come out with. By the way, this is also in the same week we had Google confirming their 2024 upcoming release of a XR device and Apple hasn't announced it, but there's been at least five leaks that I'm aware of, including industrial design and 3D renders of Apple's own AR/XR headset. And so of course Unity should be thinking about what the future of shoppable VR would look like, so it's an interesting time to be there, but yes, you were going to say I just wasn't paying attention to all the Metaversery that was happening.

Brian: [00:33:00] No, it wasn't overwhelming. It wasn't like the word omnichannel or anything like that. You know, nothing at that level. But there were other displays. I saw some like, "AI for the Metaverse," like "Shopping in the Metaverse." There were some things on booths that clearly had been pivoted to just for the show.

Phillip: [00:33:23] Metaverse aside, there was a number of these sort of crypto scammer like payment things. Best thing I've ever seen was a crypto booth that was giving away these T-shirts that says "Jesus loves Bitcoin."

Brian: [00:33:38] Was that "Jesus loves crypto" or "Jesus loves Bitcoin?"

Phillip: [00:33:41] It was "Jesus loves Bitcoin." I specifically Bitcoin. Specifically Bitcoin. Jesus is a Bitcoin Maxi.

Brian: [00:33:47] It was super funny. I saw those too. I was like, wow, wow.

Phillip: [00:33:53] Yeah, little cringe.

Brian: [00:33:54] Although it's not as cringey as the woman that I saw two years ago, that was like dragging a bag behind her, a bag filled with swag and just like grabbing swag from booth to booth. Just like clawing at the swag and dropping it in her bag that she was... I mean, it's somewhere in that range, I feel like.

Phillip: [00:34:18] There's a spectrum of cringe. I will say when you're operating a booth, as I have been known to do, when you stand in that booth for three days, there's no part of you that wants to pack all that crap up and lug it back somewhere on a train. So I'm all too happy for people to come clean out the booth and take all the swag. I'm fine with it.

Brian: [00:34:43] Oh yeah. Oh, for sure. For sure.

Phillip: [00:34:45] Let's shift gears. Thirty minutes into the show. Oh, shout out Footwear News, their editor in chief Shoshy Ciment, or Shoshana Ciment. She was present and I would say of all the various and sundry retail reporters that I follow. She was actually the person doing Twitter on site at NRF this year. I don't recall seeing any other large scale NRF on site coverage on social media in the way that Shoshy was. So big shout out to her, and I really felt like she did a great job in sort of covering the state of the show and sort of portraying it for all that it truly was good and not so good. And I'll also say I heard this number thrown around a couple of times of like 20,000 people will be in attendance. I am so sorry. I don't want to throw anyone, like I don't want to negate anyone. I have an extremely hard time believing based solely on the ability to catch a cab or an Uber or efficiently make my way out of the Javits. I have an extremely hard time believing that there were even five or seven thousand people there, let alone 20.

Brian: [00:36:12] I think probably... I'll give them at least five to seven. But anything above that, I would be a little bit. I would question, probably.

Phillip: [00:36:22] Yeah, I have never in my life had such an easy time getting a Lift or an Uber in New York City, as I did last week. It was a two minute wait.

Brian: [00:36:36] Yeah, during NRF.

Phillip: [00:36:37] And yeah, during NRF. Yeah. Or just ever. I don't know. Very quiet. Very quiet in New York.

Brian: [00:36:41] Ever. {laughter} It's true. It was very quiet in New York. You're right. I never had any trouble getting a driver at all.

Phillip: [00:36:50] All right. Let's shift gears. I want to talk about... I had titled this in the doc "The things we hated about NRF 2022," but I'm going to officially title this, "Constructive feedback for what to do better in 2023."

Brian: [00:37:07] So let's start with the biggie. Ok, hold on. So before we do the biggie, we want this show to continue, please NRF. If it really was five thousand people like, please come back. We love the show. We want the show. This is a show where...

Phillip: [00:37:29] I guarantee you they have like a 15 year contract with the Javits, and there's no way they're getting out of it. So it's here to stay, I'm sure.

Brian: [00:37:38] Okay. Well, that's good.

Phillip: [00:37:40] Don't you worry, Brian Lange

Brian: [00:37:44] I say that because we're going to do a little bit of criticism here. I just want to make sure they know we're pro Big Show.

Phillip: [00:37:58] Of course. Go on. I was going to give this one to you.

Brian: [00:37:59] No, no. Oh, you want to give it to me? Oh, well, this one is obvious. It's criticism that's been leveled for a long time. Although I will say two years ago, they took a note because it wasn't on MLK weekend.

Phillip: [00:38:11] It wasn't.

Brian: [00:38:12] But it's back. It's back on MLK weekend again. It feels bad on every, every, every level.

Phillip: [00:38:22] It doesn't feel good.

Brian: [00:38:24] It doesn't feel good.

Phillip: [00:38:26] Yeah, it doesn't feel good.

Brian: [00:38:27] No.

Phillip: [00:38:28] Can we not do this on Martin Luther King Jr weekend in the United States? The other thing is, maybe, I don't know, maybe let's not do it in January.

Brian: [00:38:42] That's what I was going to get to earlier.

Phillip: [00:38:45] March sounds good. Or maybe, I don't know. Literally any other time of year, November even. Well, retail would be tough in November, but you know, the point is I understand why this show is programed when it is for retail. It is not optimal.

Brian: [00:39:05] It was brisk. It was brisk.

Phillip: [00:39:07] It was 10 degrees on...

Brian: [00:39:10] Saturday night.

Phillip: [00:39:11] Yeah, the Sunday morning.

Brian: [00:39:13] I flew in on Saturday night. And I think my hands have never been colder in New York. I've had colder hands in like the tundra. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:39:25] But not in New York.

Brian: [00:39:25] But not in New York. It was cold.

Phillip: [00:39:27] It was extremely cold. Anyway. So that's our whining complaining.

Brian: [00:39:32] I don't think the MLK thing is whiney, but I do feel like the weather thing might be a little whiny.

Phillip: [00:39:38] It's a little whiny. It's a little whiny. I feel like we could find a better weekend to do this on. Maybe give it a think.

Brian: [00:39:49] President's Day. Just kidding, just kidding. It was a joke.

Phillip: [00:39:52] I don't know. Find some other date. I forgot. You're right. Two years ago, this was not on MLK weekend, but pretty much every other year has been as far as I can remember in recent memory. Another one, a thing that I feel like, you know, is just a hazard of it's a sign of the times. It was basically like, I don't know, I did not catch a single session because the few that I tried to go to the speakers weren't available for, and I feel like you need to have some kind of a backup. [00:40:28] My criticism here would be you need to have some sort of a backfill for those sessions. If anything, I'm sure you do session prep, NRF. I'm sure you do a demo session. I'm sure you run through stuff and do prep. Maybe record that and have that on hand to broadcast. There must be a hybrid option, I think, almost always going forward for these kinds of shows, and there needs to be some sort of backfill for the sessions that couldn't happen. I [00:41:04] have been getting... I'll say this. Now this could be a thing that already exists because my inbox is full like it has never been post-NRF with "The Big Show isn't over. Check in on all of our digital programing."

Brian: [00:41:17] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:41:18] And that, unfortunately, is catching up after a show on all the things you missed is also extremely difficult in our industry. So I feel like you've got to find a way. Someone's going to have to innovate a way to solve this problem.

Brian: [00:41:37] Yeah, and they may have even had some, and maybe I misunderstood, but they might have even had some digital sessions that were prerecorded, but I didn't actually see...

Phillip: [00:41:50] Filed under things that we should know, but we don't know. And maybe that's, you know, indicative of a challenge. Also, we invite this on ourselves. I don't have this. I didn't put this in the doc. The amount of spam outreach that happens around this event because event attendee lists get sold or leaked or something is just atrocious. There's one, the invite upon ourselves is like we attend under press passes. So to some degree, like we get the PR outreach, but it adds insult to injury to like the sheer amount of just cold outreach spam that floods the inbox prior to any expo, but in particular NRF. It's really tough to keep up with. I was like, there must be something out there happening that an attendee list is getting out to some degree.

Brian: [00:42:49] This is not a 2022 problem.

Phillip: [00:42:54] Ok. Yeah, but if not now, when do I bring this up? You know, whatever.

Brian: [00:43:01] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:43:01] All right.

Brian: [00:43:03] So we already talked about the food people not showing up.

Phillip: [00:43:09] Food situation.

Brian: [00:43:09] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:43:09] Yeah. That wasn't great.

Brian: [00:43:10] But I saw happy hours, but I didn't see any refreshments anywhere, like there was no food to be found anywhere except for Amazon. Thanks, Amazon.

Phillip: [00:43:21] Yeah, that was a little bit of a miss, although I did go to the Amex Platinum Lounge and that was a really nice experience.

Brian: [00:43:29] And there were some other food stands around. I had some barbecue. It was good. There were other food options.

Phillip: [00:43:37] I guess I'm used to, and maybe it's a hallmark of Vegas. Maybe it's a hallmark of Shoptalk just does a much better, smaller show, but I'm used to every two hours, something kind of being rolled out that kind of keeps a steady amount of foot traffic coming into the actual booth areas and like drawing people in. Like, "Oh, we put the refreshments in here." "Oh, there's the bar cart." "Oh, it's happy hour an hour now." "Oh, the coffee is finally out." These are all things that I know that is just not an NRF thing, but it would be really nice...

Brian: [00:44:14] There were happy hours that popped out. But yeah.

Phillip: [00:44:18] Yeah. Well ok. Anyway.

Brian: [00:44:19] So I think that is not a complaint. This is more of an observation. Probably belonged in our last section. And I might write an entire article about this, actually.

Phillip: [00:44:41] Really? Ok.

Brian: [00:44:41] Yeah, because the thing that I thought was really interesting. This is probably my biggest observation, biggest takeaway and observation from the show.

Phillip: [00:44:52] Oh I'm ready.

Brian: [00:44:52]  [00:44:52]You mentioned it earlier, NRF back in 2012 was a place for cash register machine companies to show up and exhibit, and I feel like retail in the 90s and back in the prior to the 90s, even. There was the age of clienteling and glamor to retail that NRF to some degree sort of represented. It was the expo that all of the big companies went to to check out what was available to put in their stores. Display technology, in-store technology. Interesting things for them to try out. And then the money flipped, it flipped to digital and eCom took over and all of the Big Tech vendors took over. And there was a really distinct flip there and it was about five years ago where, like the Microsofts and Oracles and Adobe's and Intels and Salesforces, the big dollar software companies...  [00:46:17]

Phillip: [00:46:17] Software eats the world.

Brian: [00:46:18]  [00:46:18]It was eating the world, and it was eating retail. And I think that was never more on display than this year when those companies were the ones that were not there. The show felt kind of like the old school show. The main vendors that were there on the main hall and the vendors that did show up were actually mostly in-store technology or maybe payments. And all of the hot software companies did not come. You know why? They don't have to. They don't have to be there. eCom can be an invisible industry. And you know what that's doing? It's actually taking the glamor out of the industry. It was already happening. It had already happened, but we didn't notice it because we saw the tech dollars in person and they were at the show. But now that tech money, when it's when it pops out, it leaves behind the sad shell of where all retail investments are made now, which is software, which is a screen that's a scrollable experience. And it's actually not that glamorous in any way. It just makes our lives more convenient. [00:47:39]

Phillip: [00:47:40] Wow. That's such an interesting thought. My initial reaction to that is... Wow. Sorry, I'm like letting that marinate for a second. My first reaction to that is for all of the talk of omnichannel, there's very little of in-store retail informs the online experience and vice versa. If anything, the bringing online capabilities in store is a gimmick at best. Like we see Magic Mirrors and such right? There's very little that sort of informs the two. And I think you're right. And we're actually seeing this. This is such an important point that you're making. We are actually starting to see beginning with Saks, right? And potentially Macy's and some others. The actual cleaving of the eCom business away from the traditional retail business and brand. And they're becoming separate physical entities, too. And when you start doing that, it further removes the intertwined nature of how a customer sees their interactions with the brand. The customer doesn't see the eCom as one business and the in-store as a different business, with an understanding that like there are two different business entities that have two different balance sheets, they see it as operating and having a relationship with just one company and one brand, and they want continuity. And the fact is that's always been difficult to pull off because there never has really been continuity and now it only gets harder.

Brian: [00:49:42] Yes.

Phillip: [00:49:42] I think this is a really, really important point.

Brian: [00:49:45] That was my biggest takeaway from the show, and I've been feeling it. I think we've both been feeling this. It's just it was so on display this past week.

Phillip: [00:49:57] I think I tried to express that earlier, but I wasn't so succinct as you were. One bright spot there is that the Innovation Lab or the Innovation Alley is one hundred percent SMB technology and venture backed technology that are theoretically trying to bring a bunch of this, a new era of digital retailing and a new era of in-store capabilities that potentially democratize some of this. And because of the fact that they're having to, they're emergent right now. They're building their business right now in the midst of of this particular in COVID times. I have to believe that their perspective on building is a little bit different to what the old guard, you know, Big Tech versions of building, and their dependency and their need to coexist with the existing retail community. I think that may be the bright spot there is that they have a different perspective.

Brian: [00:51:08] Yeah, I think you're right. I think there's hope. I'm not saying that, you know, glamor is gone from retail forever. It just feels like it's taken some wallops over the past eight years. And I also do think, even in the Innovation Lab, one thing that I did notice was a lot of the innovation companies are focused on supply chain optimization and delivery, last mile delivery, things again that are focused on convenience and speed, not on experience, which is really I guess you could call those things experience. They're experience because they promote convenience and they fit into our lives and not because they're glamorous, enjoyable, and take you to new places. They just help you accomplish your life better.

Phillip: [00:52:04] I have to make one other observation, and then maybe we can put a pin in it. And I had way more fun talking about NRF 2022, then I thought I would. We got to see our good friends at Recurate, and we got to see our good friends at Gorgias. And we got to see our good friends at Bolt. And we got to see our good friends from Vertex and from Signifyd and from Yotpo and yearh, EcoCart. And the list goes on. We have friends that we have made in this in the eCom world and in the various pieces of customer experience platforms that make up what eCommerce is today. And they were all present for that. And the thing that keeps me going and the thing that kind of like drives me is that we have a community, and I'm really grateful for that. It's been too long since I've seen a lot of those folks and to be able to see Megan Blissick and Kaila Saller and Karin Dillie and Kevin Kline and Shannon, and Rachel Fefer. And I mean, I could drop names all day long. I saw them all, and that just made my heart so warm in a very, very cold city.

Brian: [00:53:33] Even if it wasn't all at the show.

Phillip: [00:53:37] No, but you know, that's yeah. Most of it was at the show.

Brian: [00:53:39] No, I agree with you. I agree with you. If we're going to leave this on on a on a high note, it was just it's so good to be in person. It really is. Like seeing people in person. Zoom is not a substitute. Zoom is not a substitute.

Phillip: [00:54:01] It's not. It really isn't. And you know what else isn't a substitute? Just listening to the podcast, Brian, is not a substitute for getting the full Future Commerce experience.

Brian: [00:54:14] Ha.

Phillip: [00:54:14] We go into much greater depth, and we do so quite frequently beyond the podcast. We have many ways that you can learn and gain insights that will help power the future of your retail business. And you can get all of it a We are in your inbox three times a week, always with something valuable and worth your time. We have a long form essay called Insiders that is in your inbox every Monday, and The Senses, which is our newsletter that keeps you up to date on not just the things that are happening right now in the world of eCom, direct to consumer, retail, and marketplaces, but how it fits into the world around us, and why it's important, and our context around how those things can help you to better prepare yourself for what the future may hold. You can get The Senses and Insiders by subscribing right now at And I want to point you over to our sister property. Ingrid Milman Cordy hosts an amazing show, Brian. You know it's amazing.

Brian: [00:55:17] It's so good. I just listened to the most recent episode. It was so good.

Phillip: [00:55:21] It's a show called Infinite Shelf, and because we all exist to bring both customers and business operators, they meet at the shelf. The employees who power the experiences that we create and the customers who come to get the products that we make and that we sell, it all takes place at the shelf. It's where we meet. And so Infinite Shelf is a show that explores that. It's wrapping up Season 1. Season 2 will come in just a few weeks time. Ingrid's doing a great job, and we'd love for you to go give it support. It's found wherever podcasts are. If you want to support this podcast, and you don't want to give up some space in your inbox to do it, then maybe just subscribe to Infinite Shelf and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. That's it. That's all we've got. Self promo over. Thank you for listening to Future Commerce.

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