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The NRF Big Show – A Technology Smorgasbord – How Do You Choose

We joined 37,000 others at the NRF Big Show in NYC last week.  This year the show was a massive, sprawling showcase of technology with excellent supporting content from a diverse set of high quality speakers.  Here’s a recap of what we observed:

Key Themes This Year:

  • Economic Headwinds for Retail have Subsided in US: Employment is up, income is up, consumer confidence index is up, stock market is up, total number of credit cards in circulation is at a record high – can’t blame the economy anymore for flat or poor performance (there’s still the weather though!)
  • To effectively compete, Retail table stakes today are:
    • 360 view of the customer(who they are, where/how/when/what they buy and their value to the business)
    • Integrated Core Systems supporting all channels
    • Mobile site or app
    • Analytics –to understand the business – leaders have graduated to Predictive Analytics and Machine Learning to respond more dynamically to changing business environment
    • Flexible In-store and web/mobile technology backbone – pervasive Wi-Fi in store, mobile POS, tech enabled employees that have access to at least the same level of information that the customers are able to access
    • Culture of Innovation/Testing – embracing new ideas, becoming less fearful of small failures

Technologies/Solutions that have become Mainstream:  These are solutions that have been more widely adopted in the past year

  • In Store Customer Tracking – Many solutions are available that leverage a mix of technologies to better track in store traffic, dwell time and engagement (using beacons, Bluetooth, thermal sensors (, video imaging) giving retailers better conversion metrics and real time feedback from store level.
  • Visual Search– Enabling discovery of new products and services by helping customers search by image when they don’t have the words to describe what they are imagining or looking for  (see
  • Personalization Engines  – Tools to personalize the web/mobile experience ( and others)
  • Data driven marketing/insight tools
  • Smart Chat Support for Customer Service
  • Apps to Inform/Incent Store Teams g.,
  • Apps that Automate Review and management of Store Ops Tasks to Improve Consistency across Large Chains:  Wooqer ( and similar offerings

Solutions that the Leaders are Testing:

  • Augmented Reality (AR)– Helping customers visualize product in new places and spaces (see Wayfair and others leveraging capabilities delivered in the latest iPhone iOS release)
  • Voice Recognition– Supporting ordering and connecting with customers – Amazon is dominating here – the big challenge here is how do you give the “one right answer” to a voice driven query that serves the customer and the seller?
  • Wearables Integration – To communicate with store or warehouse personnel
  • NFC Item Tags – Enabling customers to “Tap” tag for information, add to cart, ultimately pay
  • Robots and Shelf Management Analytics – Robots in the aisle automating simple tasks:  with analytics/alerts
  • Smart Shelf or Personalized Digital Signage – Detects shopper and offers personalized video display, pricing, promotions eg. com
  • Facial Recognitionto order, pay or to recognize and serve loyal customers – Alipay in China uses facial recognition everywhere – first implementation in US is powered by NEC Facial Recognition technology at Caliburger
  • Consumer indexing to predict shopping behaviors – offered by companies like Fuelx

What We didn’t see but Expected to…perhaps some of these solutions were on the floor but we just missed them:

  • Virtual Reality solutions
  • Amazon Go type solutions that work (there were a few convenience solutions on display like
  • AI solutions operating at scale
  • Blockchain as a part of solutions or Cryptocurrency solutions

Implications for Retailers

  • Lack of Standardization Means Chaos for the Short Term
    • For now every ‘IOT’ or analytics solution has it’s own dashboard – retailers need ONE dashboard that integrates all of this information in one place in a meaningful way – all the big players are working on this but it will continue to be an issue for the near term.
    • Some of the mobile solutions work only in iOS environment or android but not both
  • Sifting through the Clutter of Options to Identify High Value solutions
    • Retailers must establish a method (or partner with an organization that can do this for them) to identify emerging technologies, evaluate for fit, test & learn to determine which to adopt/how and when

The Big Show was worth the visit – would like to receive your comments on the above – what did you learn from the Show this year?


McMillanDoolittle is a premier international retail consultancy bringing deep experience with world class clients. Our partners have extensive experience interpreting the retail marketplace and converting insights into successful strategies. We help clients develop innovative solutions in strategy development, the customer experience, new concepts, brand performance, retail performance improvement and retail intelligence services.

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