In the Bag: 3 Inspiring Ideas from Retail’s Big Show

Buy into NRF’s ongoing event evolution

Always a harbinger of event and tech trends, the National Retail Federation (NRF) recently kicked off 2024 with Retail’s Big Show in NYC. The world’s leading retail trade show, bigger and buzzier than last year, welcomed 40,000+ attendees to explore hundreds of sessions and more than 1,000 exhibitors showcasing the latest products and services.

Dedicated to the power of retail, digital innovation, and customer experience, NRF provides a prime place for planners and organizers to find inspiration for their own future events.

Check out three ways that NRF raised the retail bar (again) by listening to exhibitors and attendees:

1. Digital-forward elements (yes, we’re talking about AI)

We’re all using artificial intelligence (“Alexa, what’s the temperature outside?”), but we continue to explore how it’s impacting business and events. NRF leads with retail tech, so it cut right to the chase by using AI across the Javitz center in helpful ways that showcased the advantages for retail and the attendee journey.

Getting to know NRF and brands through AI:

  • Large-scale AI video kiosks were placed at the entrances of the Innovation Lab and Foodservice Innovation zone (more on these below) as well as at other key spots to welcome visitors and showcase how this technology will continue elevating the retail experience.
  • Visitors could watch NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay’s conversational hologram as well as ask questions about the association and the industry through the “Ask Matt” app on their phone via a QR code.
  • The tech also allowed visitors to talk and interact with Steven Williams, CEO of PepsiCo Foods North America and Rob Grimes, CEO of International Food and Beverage Technology Association via the “Ask Rob” and “Ask Steven” apps.

Wayfinding AI across the expo and venue: 

  • NRF sponsor bitHuman also provided AI video kiosks featuring human-like avatars at all expo entrances.
  • These kiosks served as a modern information desk where visitors could touch the screen to activate the two-way conversation and ask questions to find a specific exhibitor or session, where to order tacos, and directions to the closest restroom.

Analog counter

Interestingly, NRF also provided help desks throughout the event with bright red “Ask Me” signs featuring actual humans — a handy analog counter to our digital world. It’s also a timely reminder to be mindful of speaking (and appealing) to a widening generation gap of attendees, from Boomers to Zs.

2. Strategic sustainability

NRF supports its members’ efforts to address climate concerns and is committed to ongoing sustainable practices at its own show. This year, the team worked closely with the Javitz Center, Honeycomb Strategies, and Freeman to create a more sustainable approach to waste reduction and recycling while also including:

  • Non-profit donations.
  • Food rescue programs.
  • Vendor procurement.
  • Sustainability guides for exhibitors.
  • Plastic waste reduction (no beverages in plastic bottles were sold or offered at the venue).
  • Sustainability-focused content sessions.
  • A carbon offset program.

A new Sustainability Lounge on the expo floor gave attendees a respite to recharge, network, and learn about NRF’s sustainability commitment.

Eco lounge features:

  • Recycled cardboard furniture.
  • Plenty of plants and greenery to set the vibe.
  • Sustainable food options.
  • Water-filling stations.
  • Charging stations.
  • Signage about the association’s sustainable efforts.
  • Opportunities for exhibitors (NRF Exhibitor Sustainability Pledge) and attendees to be more sustainable, get involved, and show their efforts.
Real-time Efforts: A huge metal graphic detailed ways for everyone to get involved. A bin with magnets encouraged visitors to showcase their green efforts at the event.

3. Focused innovation stories 

As tech continues evolving the retail space, it’s no wonder that NRF creates dedicated spaces to highlight the latest innovations. Designing these focused areas is also about listening to both exhibitors and attendees and telling their stories in new ways.

These specialized zones help exhibitors showcase new products while also helping attendees navigate a huge footprint — by zooming in on specific solutions (and topics) visitors can find answers easily.

These topical spots have been included in past events, but each has evolved and been reimagined to reflect current retail trends and priorities:

Foodservice Innovation Zone

Completely rebranded for 2024, this sponsored area offered a more immersive experience with hands-on demonstrations of what’s possible in the new realm of food service.

Divided into specialized segments (vending, drive-thru, convenience, restaurants, etc.), the FIZ featured 50 up-and-coming tech vendors who helped retailers visualize and experience the latest innovations.

Visitors could walk through a “more convenient” convenience store for the latest in autonomous shopping, order food in the “Center of the plate” through AI powered menus and fresh robot-made pizza, and experience tomorrow’s drive-thru tech. This zone also included a companion Foodservice Tech Stage with sessions led by key innovators.

Exhibitor Big Ideas

Designated stages off the expo floor featured sponsor brands who are moving the industry forward. Spread out across the expo, these concurrent presentations included demos of current innovations, case studies, and snapshots of successful products helping retailers in today’s marketplace.

At only 30 minutes, these quick sessions allowed attendees accessibility and flexibility to float between multiple offerings each day.

Innovation Lab

This future-forward showcase is refreshed each year to reflect the hottest new-to-market retail tech and comes together through curated submissions. Featured brands showed off the latest applications in AI, augmented reality, machine learning, facial recognition, robotics, and more.

This immersive area helps retailers stay on the pulse by getting a preview of what’s on the horizon over the next 2-5 years.

Want to create an enticing experience for today’s attendees?

Browse our show floor design guide.

Ready to elevate your show for attendees who are ready to buy?

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