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China in your hand? Mobile and China top the bill at NRF 2011

Tuesday 1 February, 2011

China in your hand? Mobile and China top the bill at NRF 2011

After a couple of quiet years, NRF was buzzing again, as the cream of the world's retailers (and their suppliers) were shoe-horned into New York's most dilapidated convention centre for three days of frantic networking, writes BT Expedite's Geoff Barraclough.

From a business perspective, China is top of the agenda. You could palpably feel the excitement of US retailers salivating at the prospect of selling into this enormous and fast growing market. Why worry about the US consumer recession when you can have a joint venture with the Chinese Post Office? It has 330,000 branches. Enough said.

Other emerging markets also got a mention; notably Brazil which contributed a third of all non-US delegates to the conference. That's worth saying again: It was a convention in New York with twice as many Brazilians as Canadians. That tells you something about the changing balance of world retailing.

In contrast, if there were any Chinese, I didn't see them. That's a shame because it would have been fascinating to hear about China from the dragon's mouth, so to speak, rather than from a series of middle-aged American businessmen.

The second major theme was mobile. It was hard to find a single presentation that didn't reference the liberating effect of wireless for store operations and of Smartphones for the way shoppers behave in-store.

From what I saw and heard, I'd conclude:

- Stores will have fewer fixed till points and more mobile ones. The mobile ones will be tablet devices which can be used for clientelling, stock-checking and payments.

- Retailers need to promote their app or mobile-optimised website to shoppers before they walk into the store. Sephora is a really good case study. Otherwise, shoppers will be wandering around looking at a competitor's offer on their Smartphone screens.

- The rise of mobile makes the staff's job more complicated and underlines the need to get their wholehearted support. For example, if a retailer is encouraging its customers to browse its full catalogue while wandering around the shop, it needs to be sure its staff are fully conversant with all the products carried, not just those listed for that particular store.

So there's a buzz about in retail at the moment, despite the gloomy pronouncements nearer to home. And we'll all be looking forward to NRF 2012 in Beijing.

Get more insight on NRF 2011 and the latest retail technology trends on the BT Expedite blog at or watch the BT Expedite NRF 2011 Video Overview

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