Tech Viewpoint: Three unexpected findings from NRF 2019

The NRF Big Show exhibit floor always throws a few curve balls, and that’s a good thing.

Before NRF 2019, I posted a column discussing three tech trends to watch. In what will come as a surprise to nobody who knows me, I didn’t exactly get it right. Here are three findings from the Big Show indicating where retail is truly heading this year.

Mobile is table stakes
2019 marked the first year I did not really see any vendors promoting themselves as “mobile” or “m-commerce” technology providers. Rather than indicate the end of mobile, this demonstrates that mobile has reached maturity in retail. Like e-commerce before it, m-commerce has become so commonplace it is simply assumed that any transactional solution has a mobile component.

On the back end as well, mobility has become a fact of life. Retailers and retail solution vendors who have not integrated mobility into their technology infrastructure need to act now if they hope to be around to participate in NRF 2020.

Channels are so 2018
While “omnichannel” is still a prevalent term, retail is evolving toward a model where the notion of channels is irrelevant. Rather than focusing on how an experience is delivered, retailers are concentrating on offering one consistent and exemplary experience that customers can tap into at their convenience.

This means in-store hardware, such as POS terminals, kiosks and even printers, is still germane to customer experience as long as it seamlessly integrates with a broader digital environment. Associates providing clienteling services via tablets are as important as self-service smartphone apps. Employees who can answer questions in person are as critical as interactive shelf tags. Convenient and connected returns are as necessary as unified purchases.

“Retail is theater,” according to Boston Retail Partners principal Ken Morris. There are no more channels, only different stages to perform the single task of getting customers the products they want, when and where they want them.

You can’t change the weather–but you can plan for it
Like mobility, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are now becoming embedded in solutions that streamline workflows across the retail enterprise. However, one specific type of AI/machine learning capability kept coming up in conversations with vendors across the retail IT spectrum: predictive weather analytics.

Retailers can take reliable advance information on how weather will disrupt customer demand and supply chain patterns and apply it to optimize everything from how end caps are arranged in the store to how much stock of a specific SKU is allocated to an individual DC. With machine learning, predictive weather analytics solutions can analyze the results of previous recommendations and make better suggestions the next time a similar weather event emerges.

Whether solution providers are developing their own weather modules, baking predictive weather technology into existing applications, or partnering with third-party specialists, they are making sure retailers will be able to stand the weather.

What unexpected trends did you see at the NRF Big Show? Let me know at [email protected].