Once every three years we have the opportunity to over indulge on retail technology with back- to-back conference Goliaths  – NRF Retail Big Show and EuroShop.

NRF bills itself as “the industry’s flagship event” while EuroShop markets itself as “The World’s No. 1 Retail Trade Fair.” So which show takes the trophy? It depends on what you want to see and experience. After experiencing my second EuroShop, and after nearly ten NRF Big Shows, I have noticed three main distinctions between these events.

Retail vs. Retail Technology

EuroShop (113,000 attendees from 138 countries), which takes place in Dusseldorf, Germany every three years, is EVERYTHING retail, with areas dedicated to Visual Merchandising, Shop Fitting and Store Design, POP Marketing, Lighting, Food Tech & Energy Management, Expo and Event Marketing, and Retail Technology. There is an entire building dedicated to mannequins (see below), which I must admit is more than a little creepy after dark. Thus, just as is in the greater landscape of retail, technology is just one slice of EuroShop representing one of the many buildings. This is in contrast to the NRF Big Show (35,000 attendees, majority US-based) where retail technology is the show…the entire show.

My observation, based on the aforementioned, is that EuroShop tends to draw multiple attendees from retailers across various areas of the organization. Therefore it is not common to see large groups of attendees in any one place as they fan out to various buildings based on interest. In contrast, NRF tends to draw multiple attendees from retailers who are all focused on the technology aspect of the business. This means it is much more typical to see larger groups of retailers, in similar roles, traveling in packs as they move from booth to booth.

Physical vs. Vision

With areas dedicated to Visual Merchandising, Shop Fitting and Store Design Lighting and Food, Tech & Energy Management, EuroShop’s focus is much more aligned to the physical aspects of retail. Because of this physical focus, demonstrations also took on a more physical nature with vendors showing the here-and-now, and what could be put to be seen and touched (and in some cases put to use) today.

Vendors at NRF, especially in the past three years, have adopted more of a “vision of the future” aspect to their booth experiences. The NRF audience seems to want more of the future of retail, even if that vision may never come to fruition, vs. what is actionable today.

Speed vs. Size

The most glaring difference between NRF and EuroShop is speed vs. size. NRF is a two-and-a half-day, non-stop, in your face, good-luck-finding-a-chair conference. With all vendors and participants located in a single, gigantic building on the banks of New York’s Hudson River, the Javits Center becomes a fury of activity. In fact, it takes most vendors just as long to set up their booths as the length of the entire show.

EuroShop is a five-day event spread out over 17 buildings, which means attendees never experience the crush of people like at NRF. In fact, it is common to enjoy a coffee or a nice long conversation in a vendor booth while moving through the show at a leisurely pace.

Whichever your fancy, both are excellent shows for retail and those interested in retail technology.

In the US, the NRF Big Show is the biggest of several retail conferences (IRCE East and West, and Shop.org Digital Summit come to mind) but if you thought that the retail conference business is saturated, think again. Next week an upstart confab, the second ShopTalk, takes place in Las Vegas.