NRF 2014: an elevated perspective on retail’s big show

It sells itself as retail’s big show – it’s based in the Big Apple – and this year NRF was bigger and better than ever. With100 breakout sessions and 300 guest speakers, the 30,000+ visitors were able to pack a year’s worth of retail insight into just 4 days. With so much to see it was impossible to get round everything but I did manage to pick up on the big trends and see what the main players had to offer this year.

Overall: bigger & better

NRF is a genuine ‘must-attend’ retail event. And overall the whole NRF experience was better this year. For one thing it was busier. But more importantly the quality of attendees was very high. It kicked off with George W. Bush and, whatever you think of his politics, that was a real statement of intent. He talked about leadership and the importance of perception – touching on his reaction to hearing the first reports of 9/11.”

The stand-out themes

Mobile was absolutely everywhere. Every stand had iPads galore for mobile POS, payments and customer experience solutions. The show was dominated by big players who had made a real effort to re-create the store environment – with aisles and shop fronts on a much bigger scale than ever before to create a real immersive experience.

It all seems part of this drive to square the omni-channel circle. Retailers need the tools to personalise the customer experience, regardless of channel, with customers now being thought of as ‘guests’. All of that means getting a tighter control of fulfilment and a better understanding of re-stocking needs. So we’re about to see CIOs become much more business focussed rather just technology focussed.

The also-rans

One of the things that didn’t work for me was a ‘4D immersive store’ on the Wipro stand. There was a buzz about it and I waited 20 minutes to try it but the 3D glasses felt a bit gimmicky and ultimately the technology didn’t work. It seemed a case of pushing a solution beyond a problem – and the glasses made me feel sick!

Top five technologies on show

What stood out for me were the practical applications based around the two main themes of mobile and RFID. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s always great to see the way retailers push new technology. So although not necessarily applicable for everyone, I’d pick out:

  1. Mobile POS and payments. Talked about for years, but at the forefront of this year’s conference in a much more practical way.
  2. RFID/tagging. More manageable, much more cost-effective – with fantastic potential business benefits driven by a more accurate view of stock.
  3. Wearable computing such as glasses and watches. Although some people are not convinced that this will have the same impact as smartphones, I can see it being a growth area in the next few years.
  4. Quirky ideas that make your company stand out. So I saw a chewing gum that after 20 minutes has a scent, like a perfume.
  5. Decision-making engines that choose for you, based on your preferences and history.

Movers and shakers to watch for in 2014

Partners and suppliers that can offer value in the video and visual analytics space will have something that retailers want. I heard representatives from Tesco talk about using this kind of technology to link Product, People, Customers and Location.

Big data was also a key theme. With lots of data being collected retailers need help to turn this into something useful. So retail analytics is a must.

Why attend?

You certainly get a sense that this is ‘the biggest event of its kind for retail’. Having met the likes of Tesco and Kingfisher, they certainly find it valuable as they can get all the latest views from within the industry, meet all the top key suppliers and network with their peers from other organisations – all in one place. Essentially they can consolidate diary time (which outside of NRF would normally take weeks or months to organise) into three days.

It was a unique opportunity to see partners and suppliers with the right people around and available. I was in the same hotel as the senior executive team from Tesco so I saw them each morning and evening and we could share our findings.

By Paul Skelt, General Manager Retail & Gaming, BT Global Services

Useful links

NRF online resources and videos

NRF Top 10 Takeaways

NRF Top 5 News and Trends


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