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[6 comments]

NRF Big Show: Show me the execution? Check.

January 29, 2014

Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research's weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.

At the NRF Big Show, I had some luck finding examples of retail execution. In general, here are the themes I saw:

Integration. Shifting from defining to executing omni-channel strategies, retailers are increasingly looking for ways to bring existing capabilities together, vs. adding new capabilities. I saw "create once, publish everywhere" high-leverage solutions — a solution that covers an entire process instead of random squares of product footprint that loosely have to do with each other.

Innovation at the fringes. That said, there was plenty of innovation too — but it seemed more like small steps, rather than breakthroughs. I've seen "swarming behavior" at NRF before — when price optimization launched, when Wi-Fi network security suddenly became critical, and even last year around in-store analytics. Except around payments, I didn't see any real swarming behavior and I think it is reflective of retailers needing to focus on assimilating changes and investments they've already made, rather than looking for the next coolest thing.

Making things happen at the edges. The most exciting solutions I saw focused on helping the edges of the enterprise, particularly in stores. No, this isn't about more mobile devices. This is about solving specific execution challenges, like helping to make all your store employees as good as your best store employees. Or making ship from store as efficient and profitable as possible. Or just helping retail brands bring legitimacy to their local marketing efforts in a scalable way.

I was really impressed with a lot of the vendors I talked to who had explicitly thought through retailers' pain points and how to address them. That's good, because we'll all need a little pick-me-up before facing down the next knotty issue in retail.

And the crowds flocked to ... payments. There is very little good to say about any of the payment innovations out there. I saw ISIS and Google Wallet both while at the show and, while they have some strengths, they also have significant drawbacks that limit their market potential.

But both the U.S. and Europe face an upgrade of their payment capture devices — the U.S. to take on EMV, and Europe to move away from the mag stripe. Since they both have to make some pretty substantial investments, retailers can't help but wish that those investments also take them forward into the future of payments. And thus, their booth visits at NRF represent hope for a more digital payments future, but the excitement was lacking. Let's hope that changes — for payments, the future is beginning to loom large.

Discussion Questions:

What major themes did you see at the NRF Big Show? Which technology solutions hitting the market appear ready for a breakthough in 2014? Which are still offering more hype than practical solutions?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Which of the following do you think retailers are looking for most from technology partners in 2014?

Comments:

System integration is an area where 95%+ of retailers can certainly improve their performance to enable better visibility across their demand and supply chains. And in-store location-based marketing solutions using iBeacons, RFID, etc. seem poised for gaining traction in 2014.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

This year I did see a number of offerings for mobile point of sale with a number of different printing options. Electronic shelf labels have made a significant change for use in states that required price per measure. There were a few solutions offered for ordering online and pick-up in the store, so that the item was placed on 24 hour hold for the customer. In all it seems like omni-channel, mobile, point of sale, and workforce management dominated in-store solutions this year.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

The big theme that I saw was similar to Nikki's - and that was integration. Lots of pitches around the need to integrate and leverage the single source of common information. This was everywhere and finally we are not talking the future - we are talking today and meeting the needs of the shopper today, and for the long term. No matter what the innovative, cool stuff - if it ain't integrated (integrate-able) then it ain't for retail.

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Tom Redd, Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

One specific tactic I saw a lot of at NRF this year was making the mobile experience more context relevant with Bluetooth Low Energy devices. I counted over 15 booths that were demoing BLE technologies and/or talking about how it would integrated into their offerings. My personal smartphone saw over 50 beacons on the show floor!

I'm sure we are going to see some really stupid and some brilliant executions with BLE, but it does feel like a lot of beacons are going to get deployed this year in either case. I'm reasonably optimistic that they will eventually enable some useful shopping experiences.

On the flip side, I was surprised how little I saw on the show floor around security and trust. Given the news lately, I expected vendors to capitalize on the buzz, but it really didn't seem like they did. There was a lot of hallway conversations amongst attendees but I didn't find many vendors with innovative solutions or points of view on the floor.

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Jason Goldberg, VP Commerce Strategy, Razorfish

Consumer insights apps were shown by numerous exhibitors, however, the analytics piece was missing from many. I think the security issue needs to be paramount, obviously. This is an "All-Hands-On-Deck" situation and must be resolved globally, ASAP.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

I heard the term "big data" so much I got sick of it quick. IMO, giving retailers more big data is like creating a slick passing game for a football team that can't block and tackle.

First blocking and tackling task: fix the associates at store level! They're actually driving your customers out of the store.

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Lee Peterson, EVP Creative Services, WD Partners

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