NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show is the world’s most important convention for retail brands of all sizes and industries. Digital transformation is the dominating topic across all lines of business. As mobile devices continue to impact our lives and permanent connectivity becomes a growing trend, retailers are hard at work to figure out ways to transfer concepts customers love from physical stores to the approaching digital reality.

Making the move into the digital space comes somewhat naturally to telecom operators, so investing in ecommerce is a necessary step all CSPs are on board with. The goal is to create intuitive web platforms that cater to an audience, which is online all the time and expects to do any shopping from the comfort of their own home.

But there is another truth pretty much everyone seemed to be agreeing on at this year’s NRF: technology is still second to the value of actual personal connections. Nothing beats personal interaction between human beings, no matter if a customer wants product recommendations or requires assistance while facing issues with products or services. This holds true for the telco retail sector as much as any other business. But, due to the unique nature of customer demands in the business, there are some upcoming technologies which will impact the telco sector possibly more than any other.

In this posting, we’ve collected a few dominant trends from NRF 2018, which we think will venture on to become a permanent thing in the reality to come for CSPs.


Chatbots – automated first-line support and sales consultation

Chatbots and virtual assistants have been a lingering subject of conversation for a while now, but this year they’ve arrived with full impact. There are plenty of use cases, which could benefit from the integration of automated dialog systems, commonly known as chatbots. Selecting the right phone or plan for a customer’s specific needs, common support requests or booking additional services – everything which can be boiled down to a range of yes or no questions can easily be automated. It’s not just telcos. Most retailers are actively exploring chatbots as an option or are already using them.

Another interesting use case for chatbots lies in so-called conversational commerce. Building on existing conversations, customers can be presented with individualized offers directly related to the context of the conversation. Even the actual purchase can potentially be handled through an automated dialog system, effectively creating an additional sales channel for operators to cater to digital natives and heavy users of social media.


AI and ML are approaching fast

Whether it’s Siri, Alexa or Google Home, the big tech companies all have a shared interest in providing well-functioning AI assistants. Customized suggestions based on customer behavior and interests, individual content and tailored offers are just a few possible applications for Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. It’s all about understanding the consumers and providing them with exactly what they want, ideally before they even know they want it.


Personal connections are still key – the goal is to extend them

Service providers, retailers and solution providers are united in recognizing that real human interaction is still irreplaceable. People want their voices to be heard and their desires to be validated. Understanding that, the need for a well-crafted functional extension of the space of interaction formed an echoing voice, which could be heard all around this year’s convention. For telcos, this will most likely lead to ecommerce systems, which allow for a continuing interaction between sales personnel and their customers. An interface, similar to well-known messaging tools, which the customer can use to ask questions outside of store hours just as well as the sales rep can use it to inform about current offers, seems like a definite possibility. This way, lasting relationships between sales reps or consultants and customers can be forged, without creating too much overhead.


At NTS Retail, we are constantly scouting trends and as such, events like NRF are a real treat for us. We can’t wait to see what the future will hold for telcos and their retail environments.