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Published January 15th 2020

AI, CX, and Conscious Consumerism: The Biggest Trends at 2020’s NRF Show

The world's largest retail conference just finished. If you couldn't make it, don't worry! We have you covered with the themes that got the biggest online reaction.

The annual National Retail Federation (NRF) show was held in New York this week. The event is the biggest of its kind and provides an excellent opportunity to find out what the next year has in store for retail.

Of course we can’t all make it to the show itself, so we collected the top five NRF 2020 moments that got the biggest online reactions between 11-14 January, using Brandwatch Consumer Research.

Artificial intelligence to help meet consumer needs

With six thousand mentions on social media, AI was the most discussed theme online during NRF 2020.

We can expect AI to make shopping experiences smarter and more personalized for consumers in the coming years, as excellent experiences become more important for brands looking to differentiate themselves in the retail space.

“Adoption of AI-driven intelligent automation in the retail and consumer products industries is projected to leap from 40 percent of companies today to more than 80 percent in three years” – The coming AI revolution in retail and consumer products, IBM & NRF 

This year, the hype was very much about making shopping easier for consumers, with artificial intelligence being used to anticipate consumer needs, upsell, and provide a better customer experience in physical spaces.

Experience will drive consumer behaviour

Who doesn’t love the VIP treatment?

With 3.6K mentions on social, creating memorable consumer experiences is set to continue, and personalization is key – ‘personalization’ had 1.4K mentions in the NRF conversation.

Augmented reality to go beyond gimmicks?

Speaking of CX, AR rose in the conversation as one way to create unique experiences for consumers – it was mentioned two thousand times.

Long gone are the days of a laggy, somewhat blurry experience.

From allowing users to virtually try on Rolexes, to what Nike previews in the below tweet, AR can blow consumers’ minds, even if they aren’t in store.


Grab yourself a partner

SAP’s booth was so popular it made it into the most discussed topics online, with 3.1K mentions.

The enterprise software company specializes in managing business operations and customer relations, and this year it partnered with Microsoft to advocate for more technology driven business partnerships.

Conscious consumerism to continue growing

It’s the trend on the tip of every B2B tongue and agenda, and it was a strong trend at NRF with 1.6K mentions on social… it’s conscious consumerism.

Research from DoSomething Strategic shows how important it has become to align your products with an ethical cause. For example, 76% of Gen Zers are said to have purchased (53%) or would consider purchasing (23%) from a brand/ a product to show support for the issues the brand supported.

Even more vital is the fact, 67% have stopped purchasing or would consider stopping purchasing (27%) from a company if it stood for something or behaved in a way that didn’t align with their values.

Likewise, (and you might already know this if you’ve read Brandwatch’s Consumer Trends report for 2020), 18 – 24 year olds are more likely than any other age group to choose ‘approach to sustainability’ when talking about reasons they’d choose to buy from a brand.


It looks like we can expect sustainability and conscious consumerism to grow steadily, as the generation that demands an ethical cause to buy into matures.

Meanwhile, AR, AI, and personalization will lead the way as it becomes more and more important to engage consumers with memorable experiences.

Finally, innovative brand partnerships like the one we see above between SAP and Microsoft could cause even more of a splash in retail in 2020 – it’s certainly a big talking point right now.

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