Actionable Data Was the Star of NRF’s 2018 “Big Show”

Retail is getting smarter, thanks to real-time data analysis.

At this year’s NRF “Big Show” in New York, nearly 40,000 people converged with one goal in mind: to better understand the future of retail innovation. I attended to explore not only over-arching retail trends, but also dive deeper the future of consumer experience (CX) design. One clear trend was consistent in the demo floors, innovation lab, and listening in on speaker series: data, combined with machine learning and AI, will inform all retail actions of tomorrow, from back-of-house supply chain to front-of-house customer service.

All this will happen in real time, as “real-time” becomes the new definition of actionable.

Smarter Supply Chains, Down to the Product Level

Sample RFID tag from SML. RFID Inlay is integrated between two layers of laminated paper card.

It’s no longer enough for retailers to track their products by the bin or shipment level. It leaves too much to chance and error when calculating inventory levels, shrinkage, product movement, and more. At NRF, technology leaders abound that focused on individualized product tagging (SKU level), typically utilizing RFID technology. This allows for real-time inventory and replenishment management, monitoring of employee or customer theft, and better merchandising techniques due to the ability to see how/where products are moving in a retail environment or on the sales floor. Future innovation potential lies in storing individual product data in a transparent blockchain for even greater understanding of ownership.

I spoke with Dean Frew at NRF, who is the CTO and SVP of RFID Solutions for SML Group. SML Group provides RFID solutions to retailers to achieve many of the benefits above, including Tesco and American Apparel––the latter, of which, reduced shrinkage by 50% using RFID tagging of individual merchandise. “This gives confidence to retailers who are operating buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) models. They can start using their stores as mini warehouses, which used to be difficult with inventory challenges,” Frew explains. “This is going to be the way retailing is done, there is no way around it.”

On-Demand Experience Creation

The second trend I saw permeating the NRF floor was on-demand experience and entertainment creation via augmented reality (AR). As the driving force behind new customer engagements, AR has the ability to provide new informational context to familiar experiences, transforming them into personalized sales opportunities. From mirrors that overlay makeup routines on customers in real-time, to more “simple” executions like dynamic pricing digitally displayed on shelves, it’s clear that retail marketing’s future survival is as dependent on real-time flexibility and data transformation as its supply chain is.

One company transforming the space of animated retail packaging is Spacee. I walked through a demo of its technology in the Visa Innovation Lab onsite with Marc Gilpin, Chief Creative Officer. You can view the video demo, embedded below. By offering interactive video directly on packaging, without the need for an interface or device, Spacee is removing customer friction while still delivering an effective AR experience. Move over static end-caps; this is the future of grabbing attention in-store.

Facial Recognition Goes Mainstream

Finally, we’re seeing facial recognition move swiftly into the retail space as a result of: 1. consumers becoming more comfortable with utilizing such authentication on their mobile devices, and 2. retailers striving to deliver hyper-personalized experiences in-store. Facial recognition is most often combined with a loyalty program, or other source of a “single customer record,” plus opt-in to help sales associates deliver personalized recommendations and greetings based on past purchase behavior. Look for facial recognition to be further augmented by in-store chatbots or robotic agents that will fully automate the customer service process on a 1:1 basis.

Intel offered a demo of its facial recognition software, partnering with luxury confectionery Lolli and Pops, to deliver personalized service to current customers visiting a brick-and-mortar location. Upon entering the store, computer-vision cameras scan customer faces (assuming opt-in, of course) and, if they match an existing loyalty program member, information is sent to nearby sales associates. Pulling up customer information on their tablets, sales associates can then approach each customer individually to discuss reviews of past purchases, product recommendations, upsell to complement current personal inventory, and even process payment. This strengthens the bond between customer and brand as each individual patron feels special and remembered.

Any other data-fed implications I missed? NRF is a lot to take in. I’d be curious to know what you thought were the most promising trends and exhibitions.

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