Welcome to 2012, where the retail market without IT is like a car without power windows. Or a kitchen without a microwave. Or a marketing guy without a Twitter handle.
I recently spent 2 days in New York City, walking the floor of the 101 NRF (National Retail Federation) Annual Convention & Expo. It was my first visit to this event and having worked in retail in a previous life, I readied myself for displays of endcaps and talk of reducing inventory turns.
I was expecting to have to dig for companies showing their POS (Point of Sale) solutions or perhaps a kiosk; what I saw blew me away completely. There were large booths owned by Teradata, Microsoft, Oracle, HP, SAP, Fujitsu, IBM and of course, Dell. There was talk of data mining, customer traffic flow analysis, connected stores, digital signage, kiosk aimed at customer retention and distributing high-value products (think Best Buy kiosks at the airport), security and surveillance and The Cloud. (I am beginning to think that any industry event, regardless the industry, would have that. There could be a toy convention or a show on frozen yogurt and there would be Cloud experts. But I digress.) This was less of a show of manikins and inventory management software and more like a traditional technology show.
There was even this:
It was fascinating to me to see how traditional retail companies were fighting back against (or teaming up with) the online companies that have changed our shopping experiences so drastically in the last 10 years. If a retailer can follow you through their web site, why can’t they do the same in a physical store? If your web browser can store your preferences and favorites, why can’t your loyalty card? If Amazon can give you 1-click checkout for a quick, simple transaction, why can’t Safeway simplify your grocery purchase?
Based upon what I saw at this show, we are right on the cusp of a transformational shopping experience. Intelligent displays that can tailor cosmetics offerings based upon your age and skin type. Digital signs that can display graphics based upon your demographics. Connected kiosks that offer the entire inventory of available shoes, or if you’d prefer, you can see every possible pair and have the ideal one shipped to your house if they are out locally.
Perhaps it soon will be worth it to head back out to the mall after all.