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How the key themes from this year’s NRF are playing out now that we are all back at the office

How the key themes from this year’s NRF are playing out now that we are all back at the office

How the key themes from this year’s NRF are playing out now that we are all back at the office

There is a common phrase people invoke after going to a conference: “What will you do differently on Monday?”  How will you apply the inspiration, knowledge and new connections from the event to your weekly work? This is a great way to organize your project list on the flight home, but, too often, we fail to go back and check the list once a few weeks have passed.

Well, it’s been six Mondays since the 2024 #NationalRetailFederation Show (#NRF2024).  From my three days at the event, here are the four core themes I took away:

  • GenAI. Demonstrations included everything from predicting sales to helping someone pick out what kind of frozen food to buy.
  • Retail Media Networks. This topic had its own mini-event and continued to be represented on panels throughout the four days.
  • Tech enablement. Gone are the days when the show featured innovation in coolers and racks; here to stay is a review of technologies that power everything. Retail is evidence of the power of data and tech to change the way an industry works. It’s gone from a “people business” to a “people + tech business.”
  • Solution ecosystem. There are so many new businesses that have sprung up to help retailers deal with the complexity of processes that support buying and selling to consumers. Retailers now have to navigate so many specific solutions, it’s almost to the point where solving the problem is as hard as the problem.   

With those four areas in mind, I asked myself: Did I see any meaningful movement in what I did over the past six Mondays to apply those themes in my day-to-day?   

The answer is yes – proof that those dynamics were not just presentation material. Here is a view of how those themes have played out in the weeks since the show. Let me know if this has been the case for you!

Gen AI

Gen AI is quickly moving from theory to practice.  If you are not using it to get ahead, you are probably falling behind. What I am seeing is the power of how AI is being applied to impact consumer communications. Leaders and their teams will continue to make the critical operational and business decisions to run the business.  How a business runs will NOT be readily handed off to Gen AI.  I had a leader on my team who, after viewing a new Gen AI solution, said, “Gee, that’s great, I feel like I still have job security.”  

The breakthroughs in using AI will be in reducing executional workflow in consumer engagement. This is especially true in areas such as versioning in creative, producing adaptations across channels, or matching content to personas.  As an example, we at Magid have developed a solution that takes personas and creates great “starter” content for emails and sales trainingGen AI, it seems, is not a decision-making tool but a productivity and work-reduction tool.

If you consider the time before the explosion of communications and channel proliferation, the executional requirements could be completed by a few people. Today you need an army of people to manage the complexities required for personalization and areas such as social media and digital communications. Gen AI appears to be an effective way to manage those complexities and get back to a time when execution required a team, not an army.

Retail Media

Retail Media is bigger than we all imagine. Not because it is changing the face of media but because it is introducing a new paradigm in media that is built around an audience’s lifestyle and behavior versus a publisher’s programming schedule. Two quick examples: 

First is a CPG firm (the buy side) who is rethinking their media equation to bring in more competency in retail media, with the firm belief that broader attribution beyond performance is on the horizon. Everyone left the show saying the attribution model has not been cracked, but there is a sense that it will be. 

The second encounter was with a Retail Media Network provider. Their firm clearly articulated the potential value of a RMN within a national fitness chain. What is amazing is how advanced and thorough the provider side has become. Firms are ready to help make retail networks happen at scale.  

Buyers and sellers are focused on a media equation that is linked to what the consumer is doing in their daily lives, not what they are doing while they sit on their couch. Media is evolving to being viewed and valued based on how it fits into the consumer’s daily behavior versus their leisure time.

One final note: two experienced and talented execs I know who recently left their jobs are aiming to build the next stage of their careers in Retail Media. When the best people in a changing industry join an emerging area of growth, innovation and breakthroughs happen. The Retail Media space will benefit from an infusion of talent and ingenuity – which will lead to breakthroughs and growth.


I was impressed by how tech complexity has become one of the real challenges of retail, from managing cross-channel shopping, to inventory management, and even to new ways to think about reducing shrink and expanding tracking. Operational tech spending appears to be on the rise in retail. The by-product: spending on tech and tech competency will be a key retail job requirement. 

A warning for other areas needing funding, such as marketing, research and branding: they will have to produce more differentiated results to maintain their support given the pressure to spend more on tech.


Retail has spawned a burgeoning ecosystem of firms. As consumer choice in shopping has exploded, the number of companies needed to support the workflow has also grown substantially.  The range of firms “on the floor” was incredible – from big tech (Microsoft has the biggest and busiest booth), to Shopify (which had audiences soaking up the latest updates around optimization of the platform), to a vending company that put the top-selling items from CVS in vending portals that could be installed in hospitals and hotels – unmanned but ready to sell you Tums, toothpaste and detergent. 

Every new twist in consumer demand probably has a corresponding solution that is emerging to address it. The impact on innovation and business growth to support retail is an engine of growth for the economy. Retail’s GDP impact is not just about retail sales, it’s about corresponding supplier growth.

Looking back to look forward

It’s clear the topics from 2024 NRF are working themselves into my day-to-day. I felt inspired when I left, and looking at the past two months, that inspiration is now setting my day-to-day to-do list. 

I realized it’s not about my project list on the first Monday since I got back; it’s about the project list I have made every Monday since I got back that really matters. I have to say, Monday has not been the same since. And there are only 45 more of them until next year’s show!  #NRF2024.

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