What am I going to be looking for at NRF's Big Show next week? Two main things: the latest in tracking in-store customer behaviour, and the evolution of next generation fulfilment.

Cracking the code on in-store customer behaviour

I'm going to sound very contradictory here. I think that retailers urgently need to crack the code on in-store customer behaviour. The capability has been around for a long time, whether through in-store video or at-the-door customer intercepts. But it's all been very expensive, difficult to execute continuously, and challenging to get actionable insights.

In-store customer behaviour and next gen fulfilment. The latest technologies are changing the game, but here's where things get contradictory.

Retailers may need to understand what customers do in stores as quickly as possible, if only to help struggling stores, but if they don't take care, they will kill this nascent capability before it gets off the ground – because a lot of those technologies that make cheap, quick, and continuous location analytics possible are also very intrusive and have little respect for consumers' privacy. So while I'm interested in the development of what I see as a key capability, I’m also very interested to see how the industry is actively preparing to do so in way that is respectful of consumers.

Next gen fulfilment

Oh, am I excited about this one. Omnichannel's impact on supply chain has been a long time coming. I feel like I have said on more than one occasion "Okay guys, it's coming – supply chain transformation is going to be here any minute." Well, I’m saying it again, but this time I really mean it. Supply chain can no longer be isolated from omnichannel impacts, and the transformation that has already wracked marketing is going to be nothing compared to what it will mean for supply chain – particularly for supply chain execution.

In part, this is a little bit of sticking it to all those planning people. I believe firmly that it is impossible to plan perfectly, and what will differentiate winning retailers in supply chain will be their ability to achieve both supply chain efficiency – which comes from planning well – AND supply chain flexibility – which comes from execution. So I will be looking for the retailer and vendor stories that bring this transformation to life. The end of the channel masters has been a long time coming, but nothing will drive that home more than the fulfilment innovations that cross traditional supply chain lines – and I firmly believe that the retailers who invest to make those capabilities a reality will be the ones that win in the next decade.

This article originally appeared on the RSR Research website. It is reproduced with the organisation's permission.

Keep a look out on Essential Retail next week for the latest news from NRF's Big Show, which takes place in New York City between 12-15 January.