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NRF 2021 is going to be a first for all of us. I know I’m going to miss seeing many old colleagues and friends this month. NRF BIG Shows for me are just as much family reunion as they are industry conference. But as we’re all discovering, virtual conferences have some real advantages. And, in a way, it’s fitting that NRF is virtual—digital if you will. That’s because digital transformation is accelerating as it impacts the industry.

So, what does Microsoft have in store for you at NRF 2021? Here are four things to put on your “must-do” list:

  1. Catch my session “Retail 2020: A year to never forget.” You’ll learn how Microsoft is helping retailers build more intelligent, resilient, and sustainable retail operations with some amazing retailers across the world.
  2. Visit Microsoft’s virtual booth. You’ll have a chance to see how Microsoft is helping retailers to reimagine their operations and find ways to stand out in today’s new world.
  3. Attend the interactive discussion room where we will talk about what data and artificial intelligence (AI) mean to your organization. AI can be a catalyst for real change in retail, taking massive volumes of data and sifting through it to find actionable insight on customer behavior and store operations.
  4. Take a virtual tour of our Microsoft store and learn more about how we have pivoted our business model over the past nine months. Driven in part by COVID-19, we’ve taken our retail stores completely online, giving us new ways to connect with consumers and respond quickly to changing market conditions.

NRF is also a great place to learn about the newest trends in retail. Here are four trends to keep an eye on during 2021:

1. Data explosion and monetization

  • A whopping 40 petabytes of data an hour is generated in retail. To put that into context, 1 petabyte is the equivalent of 500 billion pages of typed text or 10 billion photos on Instagram. But that 40 petabytes an hour is not just any data—it’s the demand signal for the world. Now is the time for retailers to break down their silos of data, take control of their data estate, and turn it into a strategic asset.

2. New partnerships and ecosystems

  • Retailers have come to the realization that nobody can win on their own. 2020 was the year where we saw unlikely coalitions of the willing—just take the last mile delivery space as an example. We’re even seeing competitors working together in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

3. Sustainability

  • Transparency, values, and ethics have never been more important to shoppers. 71 percent of consumers prefer buying from brands that align with their values, according to 5W Public Relations. Indeed, 67 percent of customers consider sustainable materials when making purchase decisions, and 63 percent feel a brand promoting itself as sustainable is attractive, according to McKinsey. It’s no surprise then that we’re seeing more and more retailers making major commitments in this space. Take Walmart, which made a commitment to achieve zero emissions by 2040, or H&M which has committed to all materials used in production being sustainably sourced or recycled by 2030. There’s more of the same to come in 2021.

4. Customer loyalty shocks

  • Consumers globally have reacted to the crisis and the ensuing disruption by trying out new shopping behaviors.
  • 50 percent of consumers shopped a new brand
  • Two-thirds of European shoppers say they have recently tried a new brand, retailer, or shopping method.

And don’t forget, this year’s NRF is so big that there will be two of them. The online event is January 12-14, 19, and 21-22; and the live event is June 6-8, in New York City. We’re hoping that by then it will be safe for everyone to attend and enjoy things in person!

Until then, follow us on social and visit our website to get the latest on our engagement at the NRF virtual event over the next two weeks.