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NRF Goes Sci-Fi: Preparing for the Digitally Dense Store

project leader preparing IT workers for digitally dense stores
The digital transformation of the store was a huge theme at NRF’s Big Show as technology blurs the lines between physical and virtual shopping. Retailers want to combine the personalized and data-fueled convenience of the online experience with the physical store’s inherent advantages: the chance to entertain and excite the consumer.

This year’s show was packed with in-store technologies, from new uses for existing techs such as RFID-enabled product displays and dressing room assistants to futuristic innovations such as robots that check inventory and interact with customers. Vendors showed sensors in store shelves, back rooms and dressing rooms; tech-enabled storage lockers; cameras hidden in store décor and overhead, taking in the store floor from every angle. There were tiny screens on store shelves and massive video walls; employees decked out with headsets, scanners built into gloves and mobile watches; and virtual reality headsets. Check out RIS News’ recap and this link for extensive rundowns of all the hot new products.

Speakers cautioned retailers not to wait too long to start trying these shiny new objects: things that seemed way out there even two years ago are rapidly becoming table stakes. In his keynote, Sir Richard Branson advised retailers to keep innovating. “A perpetual revolution needs to be going on inside the company.”

Behind the Flash

This trend has massive implications for integration, deployment and ongoing support of in-store technologies. The underlying concept is that all these devices will need to work together in real time to take in new data. For example, the expression on a shopper’s face (facial recognition) and what is in her basket (RFID), combined with insights about similar shoppers with the same items and mood (analytics), plus what promotions are available (marketing database), served back to a nearby screen, phone or the robot (robotics) approaching from the next aisle (locationing) – all in time to deliver an offer to that customer while she’s still lingering in front of the blenders.

The systems that support all these devices must be well-integrated on the back end to deliver this sophisticated level of data-fueled experience. And the devices themselves must be online, operational and powered up at all times. Consider this:


The density of connected devices, many wireless, all needing to share bandwidth. Some are downright data hogs: This story in Forbes warns that virtual reality has the potential to overwhelm current network infrastructure, requiring things like software-defined networking and network function virtualization to respond dynamically. Add in customer devices and demand gets even higher. Areas of the store that didn’t need wireless connectivity before, such as the back room, will now need strong signal.


Ideally all technologies are intuitive, but most likely some level of training will be required, particularly for those on the front lines. With high turn rates, training will need to be ongoing, as well as support needs.


All those devices will either draw power or require attentive battery management to ensure they will last through long retail hours. Power may need to be extended to areas where it wasn’t needed before. Stores will need processes and accountability for battery management, and a physical space to charge all those devices.

Device Management

Managing the location, health and status of all those devices and predicting and preventing malfunctions will be essential.

Service and Support

All technology malfunctions at some point. Spare tools, on-site and depot repairs, warranty management and help desk are musts to ensure these techs deliver a positive store experience, not a negative one.

Robots, artificial intelligence, drones, facial recognition: All these sci-fi movie technologies are coming to a store near you, a lot faster than one would think.

While these are flashy and attention-getting, none will deliver the personalized, customized, immersive brand experiences retailers are seeking to deliver without sound planning, bullet-proof infrastructure and robust processes. Level 10 can help.

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