NRF 2017: No News is the New Normal for WFM at Retail’s Big Show

by | Jan 27, 2017

The biggest workforce management surprise at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show 2017 might have been the lack of news from the major WFM vendors.  Look at the paltry announcements at NRF from the top five retail WFM vendors:

NRF used to be a place where the WFM vendors would promote their latest product releases, announce strategic acquisitions and tout new partnerships or customer signings.  Vendors in other segments still do that at NRF, but these days, the WFM providers are working from a different script.  The new script was born for two reasons.

First, NRF is massive.  More than 33,000 people attended NRF this year along with more than 600 vendors.  It is easy for even the biggest WFM announcement to get lost in the deluge of press releases and announcements of the other participants.

Second, retail priorities are changing.  Over the last few years, omnichannel, the digital transformation of the store, and the impact of these things on the customer experience has dominated retail strategy.  It used to be that WFM was always near the top of the RIS News Store Systems Study which gauges retailers’ priorities for the coming year, but it has dropped in this year’s study to eighth place with 29 percent of retailers saying it is a top priority. These shifting priorities were reflected at NRF.

Does this mean the end of WFM?  No, of course not!  With increasingly complex labor regulations and steadily rising wages, WFM is a must-have for any retailer, regardless of size, and with the prevalence of the cloud, sophisticated WFM is accessible to even the smallest retailer.  Today, WFM is staple of retail’s technology portfolio and is as important as point-of-sale and supply chain management to retail operations. The WFM vendors recognize this and are investing more in their software than they ever have before.

The new script is about being smarter with your messages.  Rather than making big announcements at NRF, WFM vendors are using forums where their messages are more likely to be heard by those that really care.  The biggest announcements are typically saved for annual user conferences where their customers, prospects and partners are paying the most attention.  For example, I mentioned above that neither Ceridian nor Kronos issued a single press release at NRF.  Ceridian issued three press releases at INSIGHTS and Kronos issued eight press releases at KronosWorks.

On top of that, most vendors have moved to delivering multiple product releases each year, often quarterly.  There are many benefits to this strategy, especially for customers in the cloud that get upgrades automatically.  However, it is easy for innovations in these releases to get lost in the market.  Vendors will issue press release but you need to stay focused on the vendors’ websites or you will miss them as most product announcements are not picked up by the retail trade magazines.

NRF is still a great place for retailers to see all of the major WFM vendors at one time, but if you are looking for new news, you need to understand the new script that the WFM vendors are following: attend user conferences and subscribe to the vendors’ RSS feed of press releases.  Or, if you want someone to do that for you, just read my blog at 🙂

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For more on workforce management at NRF 2017, check out my other two blog posts. Frictionless Workforce Management examines at the benefits employee engagement software and the emergence of several new vendors in this rapidly evolving space.  The “New” Competition in Retail WFM looks at four of the lesser known, enterprise-ready WFM vendors that are trying to give the established vendors a run for their money.

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