By Joe Skorupa
Making sense of the NRF Big Show gets harder every year. Not that it isn’t a must-attend event, it's just that so much occurs in a short period of time that post-NRF impressions get squeezed into an animated GIF loop that features AI, VR, AG, robots, and IoT. Maybe that’s just me because I was up too early and out too late for four days running. Fortunately, I took notes.
My notes are helpful, but the animated GIF loop is still playing in my head. Here is what it shows:
Retail Orphan Initiative SuperSaturday:
“Hey Mom, I made it to Harvard.” Not really. We just made it to the Harvard Club in New York, which was as impressive a facility as anyone would have hoped. Or as one person said, “It looks like Hogwarts!.” The eighth edition of SuperSaturday was a big success in terms of bringing together the who’s who of the retail industry to help raise money for orphans and vulnerable children. The educational and networking event raised more than $400 thousand dollars that will go to worthy causes throughout the year thanks to the generous contributions of sponsors and attendees at the event. Next year we are back in the outstanding PwC building and its state-of-the-art auditorium. Have to give a huge shout out to PwC for its amazing support!
Rock and Roll Retail:
Best ever. That’s all I can say. Nothing better than the Hard Rock Cafe Times Square. Retail industry veterans were rocking out on a hundred-year-old historic stage that has hosted Frank Sinatra and Elvis among others. Superb sound system. Incredible rock memorabilia everywhere. Amazing talent. Incredible song selection. 250+ retailers on the dance floor and in the balconies. Walking to a late night bar through a deserted Times Square. Pizza and beer in the early morning. Haven’t we all gotten too old for that? Hell no! Especially Dave Weinand, Rock and Roll Retail impressario. This was the best Rock and Roll Retail event in its eight-year history. Already looking forward to next year, which will be even better!
You have to watch your hands when wearing VR goggles. The person you inadvertently grab is not in the VR environment and you can’t see who or what you are grabbing. Two points about VR (and other technologies mentioned later) are that it is the early stages of development and there is no immediate business imperative for deployment. However, it is important for retailers to pay attention to this emerging technology because it will mature quickly and to quote Bachman-Turner Overdrive, “You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet.”
Some of the points made about VR can be applied to AI, which also had a major presence at the NRF Big Show. But there is one big difference -- AI Is beginning to make headway in retail through Macy’s, Nordstrom, 1800Flowers and Starbucks, to name a few. Many of these implementations have to do with chatbot communication in natural language with shoppers. One of the best I saw was in the IBM
booth, a voice-activated Staples Easy Button. To use it the clients just go near the Easy Button and tell it what they need or ask it a question about a product to get more information. If they don't know exactly what they need they can take a photo of it and send the photo to the Easy Button for identification. It was very slick and one can envision the usefulness in this setting. IBM, by the way, is in the process of rebranding most of its retail technologies and applications. Rumor has it that Watson will be added to many of the names.
Are you up to speed with the capabilities and cost savings of SD-WAN? It is changing the face of networking and becoming a keystone for store networks...Did you know JDA's
Innovation Lab in Montreal has created 300 patents in the past few years and has 100 pending? JDA is very focused on innovation in 2017...Did you know that Infor’s
retail division has grown to 900 people in the last two years? Many of them have been poached from other top vendors and the current group includes some of the most accomplished pros in retail technology...Manthan
becomes the first retail analytics provider to enable use of a natural language voice interface called “Maya” to go with its analytics software. Previous AI roll outs are more focused on transactions or help desk functions. It will take some time for general availability...OneView Commerce
becomes only one of five vendors fully certified in all the new IBM retail technologies and applications being rebranded, including those based on the Watson platform…Oracle Retail 16
debuted and appears loaded with cloud services. mobile capabilities, and converged commerce functions....
What was the coolest thing I saw at NRF? A red convertible Camaro in the Innovation Lab section. Not because it had cool technology, but because I could envision myself hopping in and driving away with the wind blowing in my hair, songs I heard at Rock and Roll Retail blasting on the sound system, and a big smile on my face. Clearly, I had reached NRF overload. Ah, but it was worth it.
No two NRF experiences are alike. For another view of NRF be sure to check out this comprehensive report.