RSR Research: NRF 2012 Gets Down to Earth
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, Retail Systems Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers.
I cannot remember a better attended NRF Convention. Compared to last year’s event, which was full of new customer-facing "shiny objects" to be dazzled by, this year’s expo floor seemed more down-to-earth and … businesslike.
Last year started with an almost smirking disregard (denial) of the transformation to retail triggered by the massive adoption of smart mobile electronics and social media, but ended up with retailers recognizing the inevitability to consumer empowerment via these technologies (acceptance). It was only a year ago that one CIO of a prominent fashion retailer (that is currently rolling out iPhones and iPads to its sales associates) told me that his company would "never" use mobile technology for assisted selling.
Several topics fronted the list of interests throughout. Workforce enablement (as opposed to workforce management) was a key focus area on the expo floor, with vendors demonstrating technologies that help employees to be at least as informed as consumers they are trying to serve.
The future of the store itself was much discussed — very clearly, retailers do not want stores to end up merely as a necessary "last mile" in the fulfillment process. Rather, the focus on the expo floor was on how to blend the digital shopping experience with the physical one, to make the store a compelling destination. Rich content, social media, and e-com-in-the-store were all featured in booth demonstrations.
As is so often the case in a buzzword happy industry, the NRF exhibition floor was awash with "Cloud" this-and-that.
As an overarching theme, business intelligence and analytics capabilities were on wide display. There were recurring themes between various offerings: the need for near real-time actionable information, customer-focused analytics, graphical user interfaces, and mobile. But the most interesting (and welcomed) focus was on the ability to analyze consumers’ paths to purchase.
The retail industry has seen big technology-driven changes in the past. The industry in the mid-1980’s experienced the widespread adoption of barcode scanning in the store. Some companies saw the opportunity to exploit data from barcode scanning to scale up their supply chains to hitherto undreamed of sizes, and that fueled worldwide growth and dominance by a few very large retailers.
Now, the combination of anytime, anywhere information and smart mobile devices has triggered what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called The Participation Age. Just as what happened with barcode scanning, the next generation of Winners will likely be the companies who understand the opportunities and integrate the concepts and technologies into their business models first, and define the use cases that other businesses will have to emulate in order to compete. It’s an exciting time to be in retail technology.
Discussion Questions: To what degree do you see “anytime, anywhere information” and mobile device adoption feeding a tech-driven transformation across retail? Which of the newer technologies on display at the NRF convention do you see gaining strong adoption?