The NRF Big Show once again did not disappoint in terms of the sheer volume of attendees as well velocity of ideas being exchanged. The 104th edition of Retail’s Big Show, saw 33,000 attendees descend on the west side of Manhattan. It seems every January after NRF my head is spinning from 48 hours of back to back meetings, hoofing around the Javits Center and meeting a number of fantastic and interesting people and companies. It felt like the last two years The Big Show was picking up momentum again after hitting some slow downs due to the general economic malaise of a few years ago.
Once again I was impressed with the number of companies on the main floor as well as the lower floors. I recall being at NRF events were the lower levels would be hosting a different conference – no longer. The big idea talks I was able to attend focused on the next generation for retail – many high lighted the new touch points that will be truly customer centric. Of course where I gained the most insights were from my numerous meetings and hallway conversations. Here are the take aways from my time spent in the Big Apple:
- Push data to the edge of the network. How refreshing it was to not be inundated with Big Data messaging and marketing, okay it did seep its way into some conversations, but fortunately it did not dominate. What was discussed was the ability to push the relevant and actionable data closer to the customer touch points – to the edges of the retailer’s network. Companies like Infosys and Zebra, showcased how they were leveraging a number of devices from handhelds to smart phones to Google glass to bring a higher degree of intelligence and insight at the store level (during the show it was announced that Google glass was being mothballed, whether it is Google glass or another wearable the concept is out of the genies bottle). Think about using an item such as Google glass, or a similar device, to allow your store associates to better service the store shelf. By simply looking and speaking in front of the shelf, the device can give you instant access to see if you have inventory in the backroom or when it will be replenished. Other service providers such as Epicor spoke at length about how they are working to provide a robust front end platform to provide the most complete retailer view, at the edges of the network. By leveraging their platform that ties in all the solutions retailers need to run their commerce, those sitting at the edges of the network have greater intelligence in their hands, or in their tablets and smartphones. Which is crucial for better customer service. Retailers are aware that in order to compete with the online channels, they must empower their brick and mortar presences with the data, analytics and insight to provide the best customer experience. This needs to have information and analytics at the edge of the network – on the ground of the retailer.
- Hardware is cool again. Think smart mirrors, intelligent store shelves, wearables, RFID and IoT. I was impressed with the hardware Panasonic had on display. From smarter cash registers which employed front facing cameras with facial recognition to sophisticated store cameras and audio devices. What I was really excited about was what they have to transform your store shelves from dumb to smart. Panasonic demonstrated a full turn key solution to bring beacons, shelf sensors, smarter pricing tags and video displays. The solution offers retailers the ability to have a view of what is happening at the store shelf based on a digital signal, not relying on constant human monitoring (which we know is not necessarily accurate or timely). With a smarter store shelf, the retailer and their CPG partners will get closer to a real time view of what is really happening at the shelf. Service provider Checkpoint also displayed their RFID technology, which comes from their OATsystems acquisition. The ability to leverage RFID for better monitoring of shipments is one use case. However, the potential use case for retailers is in more accurate order assembly. As an ever increasing number of consumers are looking to order online and pick up in the store, the need for accurately assembled orders by the store takes on greater degree of importance. There was also the smart mirror that Zebra demonstrated. The mirror brings some online retail functionality to the brick and mortar store. Not only will the mirror allow you to “see” merchandise on the patron, but based on what merchandise you are trying on, the mirror is smart enough to start suggesting other products. Just like the experience when we are online and get suggestions based on what we have on our basket. Talk about cross sell and up sell…and impulse buys! These are a few examples of how hardware is becoming cool again. The evolution in hardware is bringing more flexibility, intelligence and online experience functionality to the brick and mortar stores.
- Better servicing of the customer life cycle. With customers wanting to engage anywhere and from any devices, the need for a more complete understanding of the customer is paramount. Whether this is from the fulfillment, marketing or personalization point of view. I met with many service providers that were all tackling the customer life cycle from these angles. One of the key impacts of the JDA – IBM partnership is to have a more complete view of how to manage customer fulfillment. The offering from the partnership is tackling more efficient retail fulfillment – ensuring greater customer life cycle management from the fulfillment angle. Other service providers such a Engage.cx tackle the customer life cycle needs from the CRM perspective. I think that the term CRM does not properly describe what the service provider is offering. The basic premise of pulling customer data from the wide source of available information (regardless of where it was created) and offering a richer customer profile – like what we try to do in our legacy CRM systems – is vital for next generation retail. There are also service providers such as MomentFeed that are tackling the customer life cycle from the focused marketing angle. Retailers strive to have a better profile of their customers, but also to have a more precise way in which to target these customers with their marketing efforts. Focusing on targeted campaigns and leveraging mobility, the offering is addressing a key component of the customer life cycle: making it actionable at the most precise touch point. These are just some examples of solutions that address the growing need for richer and more complete view of the entire customer life cycle. Retailers need to be savvy about how the better fulfill, manage and target their consumers. We are truly driving to personalized retail.
These observations and trends I was able to experience during my time at NRF is all driving at the same goal – reduce the friction between demand, fulfillment, relationship and after sales. Retailers must strive to this seamless relationship between themselves and their consumers. The importance is of paramount importance when it comes to competing with online merchants, who, as we all know, have created massive digital disruption in retail. Retail channels with brick and mortar presences are looking to find solutions that will allow them to compete with the eCommerce players but more importantly pivot their position in the retail landscape and dare I say recapture some of their mojo vis-a-vis the likes of Amazon and Alibaba.