Hello, I’m Marty McFly reporting back from NRF

At least that was who I felt like when I had the opportunity to attend this year’s NRF in New York.

When I think about the key themes that I saw, the parallels between my favourite film trilogy and what was on show were definitely there (and not just to act as a slight tenuous metaphor to make a blog post more interesting).

So let’s fire up the Delorean and head ‘Back to the Future’.

For those of you who have never seen the films, the time machine first takes Marty back 30 years. At NRF there was a real back-basics feel for many of the exhibitors. The core themes of many of the stands – Omni-channel, Mobile, Customer experience improvements – have been the cornerstone of the show for a number of years now. The difference now is everyone is declaring they are the only ones who do it right. I saw one exhibitor proclaim they only did “real” Omni-channel. Seriously, if there’s a buzzword that gets more misuse than Omni-channel I’m not sure what it is. And I know. We at BT Expedite are the real leaders in Omni-channel retail (real or otherwise).

Store efficiency challenges, stock availability, data analytics, mobile enablement were all the forefront. You could probably map back key themes for the last ten NRF’s and identify the consistent trends. Only now, it’s bigger and better. And more important. Oh and did I mention it now has to be preceded with the word real.

So now we move onto our next journey - “Back to the Future Part 2”. This is the best one. We see Marty McFly going to the future (alright, it was 2015 but in 1985 that seemed a long way off). At this year’s show there was a big section focussed on innovations that had little passing for Retail. So, want a device that lets you find out where your pet is? Or the latest in virtual reality? The exhibition halls had it all. With the emphasis on “Come and see if you can turn this into the next big thing in retail technology” it was a neat idea that added a bit of excitement to the exhibition hall. Let’s see how many return next year but with a retail edge.

To prove how futuristic it was, I was chased down an aisle by a robot. Everyone likes a robot don’t they? It was one of countless items demonstrating the “Internet of Things”. Everything always on, everything talking to everything else. This has been talked about for some time but now, there are some new ideas that might make this a truly futuristic world. Want a fridge that can re-order milk for you? It’s coming. Unfortunately not delivered by the robot. Yet.

And the Internet of Things is now called ‘IOT’ by the cool kids. I’ll give it two years until we are talking about the REAL IOT.

I also got a real glimpse into the future at BT’s own concept store – Alexander Black. Based on the 46th floor, overlooking Time Square it brings together a load of retail innovation to impress and bring to life our own view of how your retail stores can adapt and change. Good job we are equipped to handle queues efficiently as it proved a popular ‘shopping’ experience for many retailers.

So, this brings us on to the last part of our trilogy - ‘Back to the Future Part 3’. Marty McFly goes back to the even more distant past. A large section of the floor space was taken up by payments solutions. Targeted at the US market, this was the year that payments was taken seriously at NRF. All the news of data breaches and the fear generated means that anyone with a US payment solution had a visible presence. Fittingly for my Back to the Future analogy, this is definitely the new Wild West.

From a UK perspective, this was like looking back to 2003 before the dawn of Chip and Pin. My contactless enabled wallet, protected by PCI regulations was suddenly feeling very smug in my pocket.

So with a whistle stop tour of the show, a chance to meet the great and the good within the retail space, listen to the next big ideas in retail – NRF was once again a hit all round.

And that’s before we get to the really exciting stuff – the evening entertainment. But that’s for another blog.

Me, I was trying to find some Plutonium to fire up my flux capacitor. And I’m sticking to that.


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