NRF 2019: New Innovations Coming To Retail

Technologies That Are Taking Over The Industry

Steven Lerner

One year ago, the idea of using blockchain technology in retail was virtually unheard of. If the National Retail Federation’s Big Show (NRF 2019) is any indication, the technology is poised to be a potential solution in the industry.

During a session at NRF 2019 on blockchain, it became clear that the technology will eventually become an important part of retail. David Bouffard, the VP of corporate affairs for Signet Jewelers Ltd. (the parent company of The Zale Corporation, Kay Jewelers, Jared, and other jewelry giants) announced that the company is planning to use blockchain to enhance transparency in its global diamond supply chain. Ken Seiff, managing director for Blockchain Ventures, predicted that blockchain will be just as disruptive as the internet.

Blockchain is just one of many new types of innovative technologies that are being leveraged by retailers. Everything from virtual reality experiences to shopping beacons to automated checkouts that are enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT) will eventually become mainstream technologies in the industry.

New Innovations To Empower Associates

Some of the latest technologies in retail will only be seen by employees, and other ones will also be visible to customers. An example of that is with smart shelves in retail stores.

AWM Smart Shelf, a tech company that specializes in automated inventory and LED cabinet displays, was one of the exhibitors at NRF 2019. In addition to having a retail data engine that delivers insights and details on the customer, the company deploys digital pricing to the shelves that creates a seamless experience in store.

The technology by AWM Smart Shelf creates a more efficient restocking process by informing associates which items they are running low on, and how many new items they need. This allows the associate to complete stocking faster by avoiding the redundancy of having to look at price tags and shelving all day. The result is that employees have more time to interact with customers in the store.

“A customer is going to be more likely to come back to a retailer where they received great customer service from the store associates,” said Kaitlyn Kempiak, marketing manager for AWM Smart Shelf. “They'll want to come back because they had a really positive experience as a customer.”

Advantech, another exhibitor, delivers intelligent retail solutions, such as all-in-one service touch computers, digital signage, and point of service terminals. One of their most useful tools for associates is its mobile point of sale (POS) tablets, which are industrial-grade and have a longer battery life. The tablets enhance productivity, have check-out capabilities, and improve inventory management.

“If you have these kinds of smart solutions, you can service your customers more and you will be happy to work in this store,” said Patrick Chen, senior product manager for Advantech.

The New Face Of Mobile In Retail

Enabling the growth of innovative technologies in retail is mobile. Cradlepoint, an exhibitor at NRF 2019, provides cloud-delivered 4G LTE network solutions for business. Lindsay Notwell, Cradlepoint’s SVP of 5G strategy and global carrier operations, sees several trends with mobility in retail, such as the growth of virtual stories and the embrace of always-on connectivity.

“What amazes me to this day is about half of the retailers out there don't have any sort of resilient connection of business continuity,” said Notwell. “They have a single wire going into the location, and if their internet goes out, they put up a sign that says ‘cash only’ and they expect that people who don't carry cash are going to come back. The reality is they go to their competitor and the danger is they might like that competitor. It comes down to brand assurance at the end of the day.”

Retailers must provide their employees with secure devices because of the increased attack surface. Some retailers follow a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, whereas other retailers enforce a corporate-owned personally-enabled device policy for associates. Either way, Notwell says that it is imperative that retailers ensure that applications and connectivity are secure.

“You've got to have a cloud platform that does a zero touch configuration,” said Notwell. “You've got to be able to secure it, control it, reconfigure it, provide for security requirements, and audit.”

Perhaps the biggest innovative in retail mobility in 2019 will be 5G, which Notwell says is, “on the mind of every single CIO.”

Notwell predicts that there will be several use cases that will drive 5G adoption in retail:

  • Remote, subject matter experts for customers that will be available via video. This will require adequate solutions to the make sure that the video is not jittery.
  • Virtual job fairs using telepresence to recruit new associates.
  • CCTV video for in-store security. This includes video analytics with computer vision that recognize potential physical threats before they can occur, and alters the authorities.

“Everybody talks about 5G as the next big thing, but the reality is that 5g and 4g will work hand-in-hand for the foreseeable future, unlike 2G and 3G, which either have gone away or are going away,” said Notwell.

With 5G coming soon, Notwell suggests that enterprises prepare for it in order to stay ahead of the competition.

“If you think back to 2006 before the iPhone was introduced and before 4G came along, there were two companies that didn't exist: Uber and Lyft,” said Notwell. “Those two companies, worth billions of dollars in a whole new business model that's shaking up the transportation world, were enabled by that 4G technology. The same thing is going to happen. We'll be standing here five years from now and go, oh well X, Y, Z company would have never been touched, because neither Uber nor Lyft were even thought of at the cusp of 4G. And we're on the cusp of 5G.”

NRF 2019 provided a glimpse of what the future holds for retail. Many of these new innovations are beginning to enter the industry.

Don't forget to read the first part in our NRF 2019 recap.