It’s in New York and it’s billed as Retail’s Big Show, so I didn’t need to be asked twice! And along with more than 27,000 other delegates at the 102nd National Retail Federation conference, we helped to make Retail’s Big Show the biggest ever.
Because we get caught up in the day-to-day so much at home, getting away to NRF is a great opportunity to have a look around and gauge what’s happening now – and what’s coming in the near future. With such a large event, it’s impossible to see everything, but there were some things that really caught my eye:
One curious feature of the event was that omni-channel was everywhere – and no-one mentioned it. It seems that it’s now a given that we’re all working in an omni-channel world. The recent Christmas results, building on a record-breaking ‘Mega Monday’ showed quite a stark two-speed market – split by those who offer a credible omni-channel offer and those that don’t. (Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule and Primark are a shining example!)
But we wouldn’t be retail technology geeks if we didn’t conjure up a few new buzzwords. This year it was all about ‘frictionless transaction’ and ‘reduced effort’ (explained by BT’s futurologist, Nicola Millard as covering emotional, physical and intellectual effort as well as the time it takes to complete a shopping journey for the consumer).
Your future journey starts here
The eBay stand had the best demonstration of what this might look like – with stories to illustrate an effortless shopping journey across mobile, store, web and TV, all wrapped by a completely frictionless e-wallet managing loyalty, e-vouchers, gift cards and traditional cards and bank accounts.
Combining what’s here now with what’s coming soon, the demo incorporated geo-location/geo-fencing (as I walk past the mall), personal location-based vouchers (in the mall), clienteling to provide better assisted selling (in the store), seamless anywhere, everywhere stock availability, context-relevant recommendations (on my mobile) and a smart e-wallet to ensure I clock up loyalty points when I pay. We’ll definitely be working on something like this with eBay/PayPal to bring it to our customers as soon as it’s available in the UK.
E-wallets: taking the pain out of payments
There was a lot of debate in the breakouts about e-wallets and the future of payments – with card providers, banks, payment service providers and retailers all proposing very different approaches.
As using cards is fairly frictionless already, my view is that the e-wallet has to add value for the customer if it’s to challenge the current card process. That means it needs to work across all channels and bring payment, loyalty, vouchers and gift cards together in one place – rather than the current jumble of bank cards, gift cards, loyalty cards and vouchers.
But the debate about whether an e-wallet is best delivered through NFC (via a mobile) or the cloud (available across all channels) is set to rage for some time yet, while retailers sniff out ways to bypass intermediary service providers and reduce costs.
If you go down to 5th Avenue today
On our last day in NYC, we visited the Build-A-Bear Workshop flagship store on Fifth Avenue. We were officially there on business, although one or two (who’ll remain nameless) couldn’t resist trying out the full build-a-bear experience (aimed primarily at the 4-14 age group).
Build-A-Bear has just sold its 100 millionth bear – and shows no sign of slowing down. During the tour, the store manager gave us a glimpse of the company’s ‘store of the future’ which has been trialled in a number of sites with impressive results.
The technology they are introducing includes virtual fitting rooms, Microsoft surfaces for 3D interaction, Epicor advanced CRM to build ongoing relationships with customers and a seamless blending of the real and virtual worlds.
Customer feedback was that the children loved the virtual and digital interaction and often preferred it to the ‘old hat’ physical world – a scary example of the next generation absorbing new technology as soon as it appears.
All in all it was a really invigorating event. We had the chance to spend some quality time with our customers away from the pressures of the day-to-day environment; we caught up with Epicor, our software partner; we tapped into some of the latest trends and thinking; and we rounded things off with a glimpse of what’s coming next from our BT technology scout and futurologists. Oh, and the office has a new bear.
Posted by Jason Shorrock, Product Director, BT Expedite