New Techs at NRF Promise Excitement – and Complexity – for the Store Floor

06 Dec 2018

If you love change and innovation, retail is a pretty exciting place to be these days. As fast as developers invent additional ways to gather, slice and dice data, the retail IT industry is finding new places to leverage them. Thanks to these rapid advancements, retailers can get unprecedented insight into what consumers want and how they think and behave, and then harness that knowledge to change up the shopping experience to one that’s more exciting, informed, personal and productive.

Nowhere is the retail IT sizzle more concentrated than at the NRF Big Show, to be held in January 2019 in New York City. There, all the buzzwords and acronyms that dominate retail headlines these days ― AI, AR, IoT, analytics, smart devices, voice, mobile, social ― will be translated into solutions that push the envelope toward retailers’ end goal of creating experiences that drive loyalty and revenue.

As retail makes steady progress toward becoming fully omnichannel, nearly every one of these will impact the store. Data is bringing visibility and information to parts of the store that never saw anything more technical than a light bulb, from dressing rooms to shelving to shopping carts.

Retail Mega-Trends

There are too many new technologies to list in one blog, but many fall into mega trends reflecting an ongoing transformation in what it’s like to shop in a retail store. Keep an eye out for these themes in NRF sessions and booths:

Shifting Labor to Service: Retailers need to automate as much as they can in the store floor so they can reassign the workforce to serve the customer. Checkout is one of the biggest sources of labor costs ― expect to see lots of store floor automation solutions at NRF, from streamlined and reimagined self-checkout terminals to apps and seamless checkout solutions that enable customers to choose their items and walk out without visiting a checkstand at all. Technologies to scan shelf inventory to automate inventory taking and replenishment are also on the rise.

Changing Associates into Salespeople: With that freed-up labor, retailers are finally moving ahead on long-discussed plans to provide mobile tools to empower associates, so they can access product data, inventory, customer data and promotions to personalize the customer experience, then process payment on the spot. RSR found 65% of retail winners versus 38% of all others say there will be more selling activity in stores over the next two years. IHL measured 77% higher sales growth for retailers providing mobile sales tools for staff and 92% higher for mobile POS.

Replacing Hassle with Convenience and Engagement: The front end isn’t the only place retailers are deploying technology to remove friction. Beacons throughout stores will increasingly be used to help convert shoppers by offering product info and promotions. Apps are enabling wayfinding to the products they’re seeking. Smart displays sense customer demographics and mood and deliver content to match. Smart mirrors allow customers to see how styles, colors and accessories or makeup will look on them without the hassle of repeated try-ons. Smart shelves deliver product info while also monitoring stockouts. It’s all about shaving the rough edges off of shopping in a store by bringing in capabilities from digital and them taking them up a level.

Moving from Segmentation to Personalization: “Real-time, personalized offers especially for me" is an important part of shopping for 59% of consumers, according to PwC research. It starts at the front door or even on the store’s perimeter, where after years of waiting for a viable solution, retailers are leveraging a range of technologies to recognize individual consumers before they start shopping, instead of at the end. Then, mobile technology, location data and predictive analytics help carry that personalized experience through the store to generate customized messaging and recommendations.

Transitioning from Reactive to Proactive: Up until now retail has been about measuring what happened and then, months later, making changes based on that data. Now it’s all sped up, with technologies and in-store analytics enabling retailers to sense and respond to shoppers in real time. Show visitors should expect many chances to experience proactive retailing first-hand, tapping technologies including IoT, AI, beacons, RFID and mobile.

Moving Computing to Devices: Retailers are pushing hard toward removing servers from stores and accessing compute power and applications in the cloud and as a service. But as they begin to collect more data on the store floor that needs to be acted on right away, sometimes that model isn’t fast enough. So expect to see more talk of edge and fog computing in devices, giving them the local processing power they need to analyze data on the spot. Gartner predicts that by 2022, 75% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside a traditional centralized data center or cloud.

Taming the Complexity

The days when store technology was concentrated at the front and back ends are long gone. As the renaissance of the store continues, retailers will be deploying and supporting hundreds of new devices and systems across the entire store floor. Each comes with its own needs: integration, network considerations, testing, deployment, training, support, maintenance. Without strong project rollout planning, management, governance and support, retailers can quickly create a complex tangle of vendors, contracts, portals, help desks and so on that ultimately impact the success or failure of the investment. Aligning with an experienced integrator like Level 10 is key to ensuring all those exciting new technologies lining the floor at NRF’s Big Show deliver on their exciting potential. Be sure to stop by booth 1900 to say hello.