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Robotics, The Metaverse, and Reshaping the In-Store Experience

Our Expert Review of Key Themes and Innovations Dominating NRF 2022

Last week our team at McMillanDoolittle joined 15,000 executives at the National Retail Federation’s annual Big Show in New York City.  After the 2021 conference hiatus, this year’s NRF’s Big Show provided an opportunity for us to engage with clients, participate in key programming and thought-leadership, and to keep tabs on the cutting-edge of retail.

Accompanied by 750 fellow exhibitors, the show featured a vast array of solution providers filling niches large and small. Read on for a recap of key themes driving the discussion and observations we’re sharing with our clients:

Key Themes from NRF 2022:

  • Frictionless in-store experience: Solution providers honed in on consumers’ continuing desire for quick, navigable (and oftentimes contactless) shopping experiences – this was specifically prevalent in the grocery and convenience verticals. Expanding upon the now legacy technology of Amazon just-walk-out, retailers exhibited advancements in self-checkout and electronic shelf labels. Providers notably offered solutions to enhance in-store picking processes and streamline store wayfinding for in-store fulfillment providers.
  • Make way for the metaverse: Metaverse retailing was a hot topic throughout, with discussions unfolding on how retailers and brands could best create a compelling customer experience and defined value proposition within the metaverse. Specific points of conversation surrounded virtual product offerings, cultivating a compelling store experience, making lucrative real estate investments, and keeping up with the constant tide of change.
  • Advancements in payment processes and security: We saw continued momentum for the buy-now-pay-later movement and a rising demand for payment via cryptocurrency. Solutions ranged from omnichannel providers to Ecommerce-only players, but both cohorts placed a significant emphasis on encryption and security.
  • Fulfillment, robotics and automation: Innovation in robotics supporting fulfillment processes from order picking to last mile delivery formed a common thread.  Data providers fell hand-in-hand with the robotics solutions, many of which operate on an AI Cloud platform, offering predictive supply chain visibility and inventory management.

Notable Products and Service Offerings We Observed:

  • Solum: Electronic Shelf Label (ESL) provider Solum debuted their solution via a wine store on the expo floor where patrons could peruse wines based on flavor, region, among other criteria. After the quiz, the touch-screen ESLs deployed built in LED lights, allowing the shopper to easily locate their wine of choice.

  • Autostore: AutoStore exhibited a live demonstration of their grid-based picking system. The modular system is easily scalable for both expansive warehouses and small-format retail concepts

  • Mashgin: offered an all-in-one self-checkout solution, enabling customers to ring up all their items at once. The solution, displayed in the Innovation Lab, boasted 50% shorter lines and a 40% increase in sales.
Mashgin all-in-one self-checkout

Photo Credit: McMillanDoolittle

Mashgin all-in-one self-checkout

Photo Credit: McMillanDoolittle

Implications for Retailers:

  • Following in the footsteps of brands such as Nike and Ralph Lauren, who have already embraced the metaverse as an additional means of customer engagement, many retailers and brands have been quick to lean into this concept. However, it remains to be seen who will quickly diagnose and capture the opportunity in this virtual world, and who will merely use “metaverse” as a trendy buzz-word. Thus, there is an educational opportunity among retailers to clearly define its value and promote decisive, strategic innovation within the metaverse.
  • As omnichannel retail experiences become continuously mainstream, retailers will face the ongoing challenge of effectively harnessing and leveraging data that captures the omnichannel customer.  This underscores the growing importance of centralizing data streams to gain a full picture of customers who engage several channels throughout their path-to-purchase and integrating enterprise software solutions effectively to provide a seamless experience.
  • Fulfillment and automation providers have copious opportunities for application, as retailers navigate labor shortages and quick delivery continues to explode in the US and Europe. As the automated fulfillment space grows and matures, automated supply chain solutions will increasingly provide efficiency and cost benefits over human labor, improving today’s challenging Ecommerce and omnichannel margins and the customer experience.

For anyone who had the opportunity to attend, we’d like to hear your thoughts on the above. What did you learn from the show this year?  Feel free to comment on this post or reach out to us directly.

To learn more about our work in strategic planning, concept development and global retail innovation, simply Contact Us. To stay up to date on our latest retail insights, follow us on LinkedIn.

Co-authors Ava Buechel and Emerson Delgado and Reagan Jacobs

Ava provides market and consumer research, planning, and analysis support for McMillanDoolittle retail consulting projects. Her experience in marketing, digital transformation, brand strategy, and retail innovation brings an updated perspective in the fast-paced business climate of today. Emerson leads McMillanDoolittle projects from start to completion, working collaboratively with client and internal stakeholders on strategic growth planning, digital transformation, consumer insights, and operational implementation initiatives. Reagan provides research, planning and analysis support for McMillanDoolittle retail consulting projects. She supports company and client projects through consumer research planning, merchandise and operations analysis, financial modeling and graphic design work.

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