NRF’s annual Big Show in New York City (January 15-17) brings together senior retail executives from around the world to meet with their equivalents from the leading technology firms. This coming together throws a spotlight on both the needs of the retail industry and the capabilities of the IT providers.
Hopefully the result of this mash-up is that they all meet in the middle and that solutions are found to ensure merchants are able to deliver on the increasingly complex demands of their digitally-savvy customers.
This year the likelihood will be that the robots and interactive mirrors will be back again but this time they will be much more relevant to retailers’ businesses because of the efforts that have been put into back-end infrastructures. There was insufficient integration of technologies, like robots and mirrors, with the rest of retailers’ business areas but this is not so much an issue today.
Progress has been made by many merchants through wide-reaching digital transformation projects. The underlying objective has been to remove silos from within their businesses and to have data (on inventory and customers) flow seamlessly across their organisations. In doing this retailers are sensibly designing IT systems that will still be relevant and contemporary in five or more years’ time.
A key criteria for future-proofing businesses is to adopt a cloud-first mentality whereby updates and new adaptations can be deployed effortlessly. The agility that cloud brings is obvious and solutions at NRF this year will invariably be operating in the cloud or have cloud-based versions.
Against this backdrop the robot solutions we see this year will no doubt be undertaking tasks like scanning shelves for inventory and acting like virtual shop assistant helping customers in-store to locate products and provide them with extra information on items as well as offering recommendations. As for the interactive mirrors they are now firmly linked to inventory and can determine product availability in-store or anywhere else in a retailers’ business and recommend alternative/complementary items for purchase.
Such customer communications are being increasingly driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI) / machine learning technology, which will undoubtedly be powering myriad solutions at NRF this year. While many of them will likely be too gimmicky to be of relevance to retailers there will be many that have powerful use-cases including Chatbots. These clever solutions are being incorporated into many customer touch-points, for instance, when shoppers communicate with retailers through their websites or their apps.
Another equally impressive technology that will absolutely be out in force at NRF 2017 will be Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). Such solutions have been embraced for some time by DIY retailers and homewares merchants to help customers design and visualise room layouts but VR and AI can be expected to break-out way beyond this part of the retail market because such technologies can be used to both enhance the in-store experience as well as taking the physical experience into people’s homes.
This clearly sounds like both a threat and an opportunity to store-based retailers. And it would be correct to think that way. But only by considering such solutions can strategies be worked out that enable a business benefits more from the opportunity rather it suffers from the threat. To ensure this happens requires both an agile mind-set as well as an underlying business infrastructure that is designed with the future in the mind.
Will you be going? We’d love to know what you think.