Every January the retail industry flocks to New York for ‘The Big Show’, also known as NRF, a three-day event aimed at uncovering what’s next for the industry and how the sector can utilize ground-breaking new technologies to stay ahead in an increasingly competitive landscape.
Attracting over 16,000 exhibitors and 40,000 delegates in attendance, ‘The Big Show’ helps to shape retail for the year ahead. With the likes of omnichannel, enhanced POS, blockchain technology, IoT, customer analytics and VR all being discussed this year, which of these are lasting trends that will shape retail and which are merely too niche to be adopted by the mainstream?
Discussion around omni-channel continues
It seems to me that the retail industry has been talking about omnichannel for years; the notion of being able to serve customers effectively across multiple platforms has been a goal for a significant number of retailers. So, why are we still talking about it as just an idea in 2019? To put simply, I think this is because many retailers haven’t reached their potential when it comes to their omnichannel strategies.
For the most part, many retailers still view their online and offline inventory separately. However, a retailer’s stock needs to be seen in its entirety no matter the channel a customer chooses to purchase from. I believe that this is where a number of retailers stumble and having an accurate view of their inventory means that providing a full omnichannel experience will only ever be an idea.
In my opinion, retailers need to be looking towards technologies that can address this problem. Those that can identify where products are, how many are in store against how many are available online and what is being replenished and when. Having this insight in almost real-time will mean that retailers will be able to deliver on the promise of omnichannel.
Enhanced Point of Sale (POS)
Another recurring theme I noticed at NRF is the customer experience. In previous years the conversation has been led by discussions on how to provide personalized shopping experiences that aim to keep customers in-store longer. However, this year it seemed the debate is about how quickly the customer can complete the buying process or, more specifically, how the purchase can be made much more efficient.
We are seeing retailers combine a number of technologies at POS to enhance the overall experience. In particular, combining POS with technologies such as RFID, has the ability to speed up the check-out process whilst also acting as a loss prevention tool by reducing human factor-based errors at checkout.
I think that as the industry continues to talk about how retailers can improve the customer experience, it seems many are realizing that POS is one area that can undergo significant changes to improve the shopping experience.
Smarter investments will be made
With an array of ground-breaking and innovative technologies on display at NRF, it can be easy to become infatuated with these newer technologies. Things such as augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) have been present at previous years’ shows. However, what has been clear to me this year is that these technologies are quite niche for the majority of retailers to really utilize and generate ROI.
It is obvious to me that retailers are continuing to reduce their overheads and, along with marketing spend, technology investments also shrink. We’ve already seen examples over the years of retailers falling behind their competitors due to a lack of innovation but have also seen other blows to their budgets on needless technology.
Instead, retailers are under pressure to invest smarter. To avoid the allure of shiny technologies that might impress shareholders but have little value to the business. I would say, the key is to implementing technologies that have a transformative effect on a retailer’s operations. Whether that enables them to save money, carry out processes more effectively or improve inventory accuracy across stores to better serve customers.
Once again, I think NRF has proven to be a show that steers the conversation within the retail world. One thing that remains to be unseen is which trend from this year’s show will have a lasting impact and which will fall by the wayside.
By Dean Frew, CTO and SVP of RFID Solutions at SML Group