8th February, 2016

NRF - Dynamic, ground-breaking and pulsing with 3D printing!

To write, I need to be inspired.  I need something to catch hold of my imagination to such an extent that I feel compelled to share it. This year I had such an experience at the National Retail Federation’s 2016 Big Show conference. It was my first time there and I was pretty excited about seeing all the funky and dynamic technology on display. But what I most wanted to stumble on, was a machine capable of making all my sartorial fantasies come true; a device that that would be able to  design, order and custom fit all my clothes as soon as I walk in store and then bill me  by the end of the month.  But alas, this showstopper was either hiding from me, or doesn’t exist yet.

Digit-all is here to stay

Every hall or avenue I explored at NRF, I was bombarded by digital solutions   Granted they looked really refreshing and eye catching but my instinct was that solutions were driving retail and not the other way around. The Radio-frequency identification (RFID) intelligent digital screens on the BT stand however immediately stood out for how practical and timely they are and I can see them making their way into high street stores pretty soon.  The technology works by effectively placing an RFID tagged item on a coat hanger. The screen in the changing room instantly recognises the product and allows you to view additional information about it. You can also request a different size and view recommendations based on a ‘get the look’ campaign. This technology will revolutionise how you shop, make it less of a chore, and ensure that you always leave with something that not only looks great but fits by giving everyone access to what is essentially, a virtual stylist.

It’s all very smart. But don’t forget Amazon sold more turntables than any other home audio product this Christmas. This proves to me that staff / customer interaction and product knowledge is always going to be what the purists want. Digit-all has its limitations!

Which leads me onto why RFID’s time is now

Now, RFID has been around for a good 15 years but it hasn’t really taken off as it should. There were an abundance of vendors talking about how it heralds a new era for retail. Yet all that most retailers seem to want from this technology is two things: knowing when stock has left the shelves or store (helping with automated predictive replenishment) and being able to scan an expected delivery (full of RFID tagged items) in seconds with the simple swipe of an RF scanner.

With the cost of RFID labels coming down and technology becoming smarter I can see more and more retailers taking the leap into this unknown world, but probably in small steps. It’s  a technology that will move beyond clothing and into the sectors of groceries, health and beauty and has the potential to overhaul inventory, supply chains and logistics, which will improve store execution and increase sales and provide a lot of insight from big data.

3D printing – but not as we know it

One thing that I did see in the NRF Innovation iLab, that really impressed me, were certain applications of 3D printers.

Now this printer wasn’t being used for printing mobile phone cases or coffee cups it was actually used to make clothes (but given how cold it was in New York,  gloves might have been more handy). That said, on show was a ladies’ top that was designed and printed by the company that makes Lady Gaga’s notoriously outlandish 3D outfits. The top was made out of 3D printed material that actually felt quite pleasing to the touch. The trend for 3D printed items is only set to grow, and become more mainstream.

I would like to think in years to come that customers will be able to walk into a store, be scanned by a body scanner, select their material and colour (via a Product Lifecycle Management interface) and have their item printed there and then. This may sound very Marty McFly but we are on the cusp of making it a reality and the trend for 3D printed items is only set to grow and become more mainstream.

So maybe all this means my ideal in-store experience is not such a distant reality after all and might in fact have been right under my nose all the time.


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