“Information will be the basis of competitive advantage so make it everything you do.” Blogger Elizabeth Dias summed up what we believe perfectly, but the question is, what is the best way to harness this information? For that, we need to look at the buzzwords and exciting innovations displayed this year at the NRF, Retail’s Big Show. As a product manager I was excited by the new product technologies unveiled at the NRF across more than 550 booths.
One question I asked myself was, what direction is the industry headed over the course of 2014? After one lap around the booths it was clear to me that the direction, or directions were cloud, mobile, social, analytics and omnichannel. These were the buzzwords floating to and from every booth. The funny thing about buzzwords though, is the majority of people use them without really knowing what they stand for. And when it comes to omnichannel and analytics, people tend to use them with even broader strokes. To me, omnichannel is where we get the data; customer likes, dislikes, location, and history while analytics is how we analyze it and put the data to use.
The ubiquity of integrating analytics strategies into mainstream retail might seem obvious now, but it took years to go from it being spoken about in a small section of the Big Show to a large presence woven into the fabric of every exhibitor’s messaging. Similarly, advanced technologies such as “people counting”, “beacon”, “localization” and the biggest buzzword of all “omni-channel” have gone from something experimental to slowly finding a place in mainstream retail. What was not clear however, was a single storyline emerging out of this omni-channel retailing boom. I found that outside of a few large players operating in this segment, namely the likes of Salesforce or Oracle (thanks to their slew of acquisitions of smaller niche players in this segment) most retailers used the buzzwords with no clear storyline.
Common themes: What emerged as a common theme was that Point Of Sale vendors have decided to dive deep and figure out how they can go up the value chain by expanding into higher end analytics/Business Intelligence software to create a differentiation. Lightspeed Retail, Celerant, and Epicor all looked really good with their solution offerings, but many large solution providers are offering analytics solutions. While the smaller players were trying to look at entering specific products and diving deep into them. For example, Irisys was deep into people counting and trying to do a good job at focusing on one thing, Experian was also the same as were a few others.
Uncommon technologies: What was not too common was mobile apps, localization technologies, and beacon adoption. This being said, it became increasingly clear to me: Solution providers and retailers have yet to figure out the possibilities with the emergence of the new disruptive technologies. I could not find a single company at the show (and I looked at pretty much all the major ones out there) that had a clear mobile app strategy that worked and really did all three things well. If you look at it, Apple’s Passbook has not exactly taken the retail world by storm, despite starting with a bang and beacon technology has yet to achieve widespread adoption. Apple has released 200+ million iBeacon devices out there in the wild since they already have been shipping this technology with BLE i.e. Bluetooth Low energy since the iPhone 4 devices from 2010. I did stop by Qualcomm’s booth and they have a technology called “Gimbal” which is a context awareness SDK designed to deliver timely, personalized content to mobile audiences which seemed interesting.