NRF 2020: What Does the Future Hold for Technology in Retail?
Written by Dipesh Hinduja
3 Min Read
Every January, thousands of the biggest names in technology and retail converge upon New York City for a conference for the ages. NRF’s Big Show is the nexus of the current state of retail technology and the brightest glimpses of where this technology is going next. Here, we’ll examine some of the most exciting and promising trendlines that will inform the big picture of retail for years to come.
Online is Great, but Omnichannel is Better
It’s natural to look at the abundance of reports of “a retail apocalypse”, and assume the end was near for brick-and-mortar retail. After all, 2019 was a record year for chain bankruptcies, and a number of iconic brick-and-mortar destinations (e.g. Macy’s) continue to struggle. Simply retreating to purely online business models, however, has not and will not guarantee survival.
One of the more buzzed-about items at this year’s NRF were the evolution of omnichannel tactics. Retailers saw success simply by embracing flexibility with use cases such as the “endless aisle” (customers can buy your goods – even if out of stock or unavailable in a particular store – from anywhere within your supply chain) and BOPIS/BOSFS (Buy Online Pick Up In Store and Buy Online, Ship From Store, respectively). Omnichannel is where brick-and-mortar retail growth lies – especially during peak holiday periods – and equipping their associates to facilitate these tasks at the point of purchase is crucial. That leads us to….
Investing in Connected Associates
As brick-and-mortar stores evolve, the associates within them must evolve as well. Two particular items that were increasingly prominent at NRF may fuel that evolution of the store associate: 5G and wearables.
While each has gotten their share of attention in the months prior, 2020 seems to be a year where they feel truly “ready for primetime”. 5G infrastructure is receiving major build outs and deployments from both carriers and enterprises. The added bandwidth is crucial in streamlining retail tech processes that couldn’t have been done at the beginning of 2019. This bandwidth will serve as the foundation for the mountains of data that retailers will rely upon from their connected stores – filled with sensors, cameras, and point of sale. Amazon, Apple and Google announced a new open-source network standard specifically for Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as wearables.
For the store associate, this will pay a number of dividends. While it will streamline their ability to process mobile payments within the store, they will also be better equipped for lower-visibility merchandising tasks such as planogram implementation, restocking and price checking via wearables. This could take the form of rugged smartwatches, wearable scanners or something else entirely such as Theatro’s voice-powered Intelligent Assistant technology.
Retailers are Going Ape Over Automation
Connected associates are a must in the retail stores of 2020, but they won’t be fighting the fight for brick-and-mortar relevance. This year at NRF, more than ever, we saw a wave of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions that promised to transform inventory tracking, warehousing and supply chain operations.
Zebra unveiled their new SmartSight Robot, geared toward mass merchants, grocers and supermarkets. The robot leverages the machine learning, workflow automation and robotics capabilities of their EMA50 enterprise mobile automation system to accurately identify out-of-stock conditions, pricing inconsistencies and planogram issues on the shelf. For customers, that means increased inventory availability of over 95 percent due to its ability to autonomously scan shelves and generate replenishment tasks for store associates. The platform is actually a subscription service encompassing both the hardware, EMA50 system and backend software.
Bossa Nova, in partnership with NCR, announced a widespread deployment of their inventory robots to up to 1,000 Wal-Mart stores by the end of the year. Their offering will be a crucial tool for Wal-Mart as they seek to keep pace with online disruptors by offering versatile omnichannel strategies that let their customers buy any of their products however they want to. The “last mile” of delivery is a one of the biggest battlefields for 2020 retailers, and they’ll need to fully leverage both their stores and distribution centers in order to achieve victory.
It’s All About the Experience
While retailers are investing heavily in technology and infrastructure, the most successful at NRF agree that it’s all about optimizing the customer experience. In his opening remarks, NRF Chairman Christopher Baldwin said “As an industry, we’ve invested billions and billions of dollars over the past decade. This massive investment has started to transform our industry, and it has changed the way consumers shop and how they live.
As a result of our investments, consumers today quite simply have more. They have more access to products, they have more information, they have more speed and they have more convenience, 83 percent of consumers say convenience is more important to them now than it was five years ago, and all of this translates to more power for the consumer.
Think of it this way. Today, the largest retailers in the world will bring your purchases to the curb for you. They’ll shoot virtually anything to your home. They’ll also have it there today or the next day — and, of course, all of this is done with free shipping. The new consumer power is felt in every area of this great industry.”
It’s this evolution that promises a new dawn that stretches beyond the murky and nebulous present retail atmosphere. Smart partnerships and investments in both the technology and the experience will empower employees to make this dream a reality in the months and years ahead. For more information on how to leverage your mobile technology to create more satisfied customers, read our new eBook The Complete Mobility Cookbook: 4 Recipes for Keeping Happy, Loyal Customers in Your Stores.
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