NRF 2016 Is The Portal Into The Near Future Of Retail
February 09, 2016
The business of retail is currently going through a rapid and exponential change.
The biggest force for retail transformation has been the swift advancement of affordable technology, particularly with Internet and mobile technology. These changes have been fuelled by the Millennial generation who’s willing to spend in cost-efficient, yet experience-orientated ways, as well as the global marketplace opening up.
In many ways, the 2016 NRF Big Show demonstrated the wide variety of factors that are revolutionizing the retail marketplace. Offerings on display ranged from software, to hardware, to big data analytics. Vendors also offered innovative solutions for loss prevention, supply chain management and ways to totally reimagine the in-store experience, showcasing the gradual merging between in-store and online shopping.
A large section of NRF was devoted to hardware like new devices and gadgets aimed to revolutionize the way retail is carried out. As you walked around the exhibition, your eyes were continuously drawn to new types of 3D printing, interactive digital displays, holograms, virtual reality, facial recognition devices, robots, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and sensors embedded into virtually every aspect of the retail environment.
Digital Retail Experiences Brought to Life
The best booths at NRF transcended being sales tools and provided full interactive experiences for attendees. Highlights included Italian grocery chain Coop's fully connected supermarket of the future, which provided attendees with a personalized, real-life shopping experience – akin to the way experiences are personalized online. It included gesture controls created to recognize the products that interested attendees, and provided them with additional product details.
Additionally, another interesting example where “real” retail is rapidly merging with its online counterpart could be found in the RFID Interactive Mirror. For some time now, shoppers have been able to create a virtual dressing room in an app, in the same way that they can virtually paint the walls of their house. However, the new RFID Interactive Mirror turns the traditional fitting room into an interactive dressing room. When a customer tries on an item of clothing, they can “see” themselves in differing sizes and wearing accessories that they have chosen. They can even change the lighting to see how a particular item of clothing will look at both the office and dinner.
Of course, there were also many more updates to traditional retail support products on display such as updated Point-Of-Sale systems and the latest improvements to self-service checkouts.
Data Is The Foundation to Great Experiences
Inevitably, every new connected device adds to the torrents of data available to assist retailers in their decision-making. Retailers must be prepared to harness this explosion of data to meet customers rising expectations around customer experience. Real-time personalization, anticipation of desires and needs, and seamless experiences are quickly becoming the standard, not the aspiration.
With retailers now selling their products via multiple channels, the data created is expanding exponentially. The Internet of Things (IoT) has provided new opportunities for the proactive retailer to receive data that is both useful and truly of benefit to them.
Stores are increasingly adopting connected devices and sensors into their brick-and-mortar locations. Each of these devices adds to data acquisition, and retailers need to have a system in place to sift through this data to extract the important information. Retailers have, in reality, collected data in the past from their customer base. The difference in an IoT-connected world, however, is the speed of data acquisition, which can be almost instantaneous.
Therefore, it is of no great surprise to see that there were nearly 50 vendors at NRF offering some form of data analytics solutions to retailers. Despite this, there were still few solutions offered as to how to undertake actionable change as a response to retailers’ analytics.
Despite the huge increase in online and mobile sales, it must be remembered that 90% of sales still occur in the physical retail world. However, customers are increasing their expectations of retail stores, and walking away from stores that don’t match up.
Traditionally retail success has been measured by square footage of the store footprint. That is why large department stores have always been considered the most successful. However, can you truly measure retail success by this metric any longer? Is Amazon a failure simply because it does not have a large square footage? Conversely, some of those old monolithic department stores that cover a huge floor area but are now empty much of the time, can no longer be considered a success.
A well-run physical store, particularly if it embraces much of the type of technology displayed at the NRF show, can create amazing customer experiences that exceed the expectations created by online shopping.