NRF Review: Looking Forward to Next Year

Jan 21, 2005

By Ronald Margulis

I attended the National Retail Federation show this week, and found it bustling on the expo floor and in the workshops. Because the Monday morning session featured updates on the RFID initiatives at Wal-Mart, Tesco and METRO, and because at least one-third of the booths on the floor featured RFID-related solutions, it would be natural to say the show was all about RFID. It would also be wrong.

The NRF show was really about the next next big thing in retail technology. Managers have accepted that, while it will take some time, RFID will happen. They are now looking for what the next thing to help them differentiate themselves will be. Will it be something on the store floor or on the Web? Or both? Will it be driven by customer demand or by suppliers? And so on.

I saw a few things on the expo floor that have the potential to be the next thing. Fujitsu had an interactive computer on a cart that could tally your order as you shop. In terms
of operations, StorePerform and Intermec showed me some great labor-enhancing devices – StorePerform’s was a workbench that helped managers control activity at retail and Intermec’s
was a component-based scanner (RFID hybrid was also available) that can be configured in a variety of ways to address specific applications in the store. Active Decisions was
showing a handheld sales assistant that was very interesting in that it basically takes the fudge factor out of cross selling.

Both Active Decisions and Blue Martini talked about “guided selling” and Blue Martini execs mentioned “clientelling”, a term I hadn’t heard before. The down and dirty of their messaging is that retailers need to make it easier for their sales staff to make it easier for their customers to buy more stuff. Technology can help by providing pre-determined offers to the salesperson and ultimately the customer, by revealing information on loyal clients that can be acted on and by showing what the supply situation is so sales aren’t lost.

There were, of course, many exhibitors I was not able to meet with and many workshops I couldn’t attend, but the vibe from the show was a cautious optimism. Retailers are looking to invest in new applications, but understand that a single event can radically change their perspective.

Moderator’s Comment: What technology will get the lion’s share of the retail CIO’s attention this year? Why?

Many technologies that were once a solution looking for a problem to address may finally get their shot during the coming year. Item level RFID is not going
to be one of them, but electronic shelf tags may find their ways in an increasing number of store.

Ronald Margulis – Moderator

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