#NRF2020: An on-the-ground look at the latest retail tech

The National Retail Federation's Big Show boasted 40,000 attendees this year, with the likes of Starbucks and Microsoft taking to the keynote stage, hundreds of break-out sessions and an exhibition floor which would take three weeks to explore, rather than the mere three days the event offers. Here, James Pepper, CEO of Vista Retail Support, provides his highlights of the latest technology trends from NRF 2020. 

RFID – the chip that provides the final piece of the jigsaw for retail innovation

The use of RFID in retail has significantly increased over the last few years. At NRF 2020, it is evident that the technology that struggled to breakthrough as a standalone component is being embraced by tech companies and integrated by a whole plethora of complementary technologies to provide real world solutions. Technology providers that are exhibiting solutions including stock management, customer engagement, product identity, shelf life and tracking are all using RFID as the final piece of the jigsaw. It is also really good to see that the NRF Expo itself is now using the technology, by attaching tags to the attendees’ lanyards to track their movements throughout the show. The data captured from the movements of attendees’ tags could be used for planning future expos and also for exhibitors to capture dwell time. 

One such business that’s leading innovations like these is SML. SML is pioneering RFID technology by redefining how stock is labelled, controlled and tracked through its retail journey. Retailers benefit from a total view of stock, a reduction in time to audit and improved stock accuracy, all of which are key ingredients for seamless retail channels and ultimately improve customer experience, loyalty and potential spend”.

When payments and customer loyalty combine forces

The evolution of payments continues and if there is one technology that you are almost guaranteed to see new innovations in each year at NRF, it’s in the payments sector. Whether it’s how payments are processed, how these integrate with the banks and acquirers, or new fintech businesses entering this growing marketplace, there are always advancements to experience. Many of the developments made to payments technologies lay deeply embedded in the infrastructure that makes card payments take place. Where, traditionally, payment solution providers, banks and card acquirers would charge a significant percentage for transactional fees, new payments providers are starting to disrupt the market by untangling the complexity of traditional payment solutions.

The other development in this area is the evolution of the Pin Entry Device (PED) itself. Much to the dismay of retailers, manufacturers have benefited from a cyclical sale of 3-5 years, which has been driven by the evolving Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) requirements for greater security in the physical card payment environment. The PED device has certainly developed from a device that only processes PIN-entry card transactions, to a device that could manage the entire transaction, advertise products through high-resolution displays and manage customer engagement and loyalty. Whilst some of the above is achieved by the functionality and payment device itself, very clever integrations and customer loyalty application management will provide the real innovation.

One of the lead innovators in this field are FreedomPay, who are rapidly expanding their international capabilities due to their ability to integrate with an enormous range of PoS applicationapplications and payments providers but with the added benefit of integrating the retailer’s own customer loyalty scheme into that payment infrastructure. Historically, retailers manage these channels separately, but there are significant benefits for reducing the complexity of both managing the loyalty rewards and payments via the same device for both the retailer and the customer. FreedomPay can monetise loyalty points from different schemes operated by each retailer. For example, if a retailer acquires another retailer and they both use different loyalty schemes, FreedomPay could accurately record all loyalty points earned by either brand and monetise these to be redeemed by the customer at either brand and via a single PED. This is an innovation which not only takes care of the customer loyalty scheme housekeeping for the retailer but also encourages the customer to visit the store and provides a seamless and engaging customer experience.

Intel impresses once again

One of the most exciting exhibitors at NRF is always Intel. I tend to make their booth my first stop when arriving at the show and again they didn’t disappoint. Intel pack more technology into their booth than most exhibitors and leverage collaborations with innovative developers, entrepreneurs and inventors. At this year’s show, Intel have focused on two areas of technological development which is underpinned by the most recent retail trends of hyper-convenience and hyper-experience.

Ella, The Robotic Coffee Barista. The robot arm that makes the perfect cup of coffee every time. An Intel collaboration with Crown Digital has developed the seamless cup. This innovation combines robotics, artificial intelligence and data analytics to bring consistency, quality and speed of service to coffee drinkers. Ella’s robotic arm is contained within a perspex cube with a front clear panel which not only acts as a functional touchscreen to choose your cup of coffee, but keeps you entertained as a high resolution gaming screen while you wait for your coffee to brew. Due to the design of Ella, the footprint is relatively small and contains three bean-to-cup coffee machines, meaning that it could potentially be deployed in train stations and smaller retail units where space is a premium.

The smart parcel kiosk solution

In this impressive collaboration, MeldCX, Intel, Google, AOPON and Microsoft have combined their technologies to make a smart parcel solution that can weigh a package, scan and accurately measure its dimensions, and can also read address labels. This has been achieved through computer vision using an imaging sensor which sits above the intelligent weighing scales.

Digital signage with a difference

In this next example, Userful have made charging tablets and mobile devices part of the digital display. The mobile device is attached to walls of magnets that collectively sync to form part of a digital display wall. This not only de-clutters the retail environment but also creates a highly effective and engaging digital wall whilst the device is on charge. Userful’s intelligent media orchestration is enabled by edge computing, AI, and a visual networking platform. The networking platform automatically synchronises the mobile device to display the correct media content for the location in which it has been positioned.

The magic mirror finally creates its magic

I think I first saw a magic mirror being demonstrated on a Fujitsu booth at the now defunct Retail Solutions Expo in Birmingham many years ago. This technology has evolved over the years and is still seen by many as a gimmick rather than having a practical retail use. However, Pyramid, in collaboration with DETEGO and Nordic ID, have started to deploy their smart fitting room into Adidas stores. In fact, the New York store on Fifth Avenue is the latest store to have the technology installed and is already helping in-store colleagues engage with customers.

There is an age-old problem with fitting rooms, where shoppers will take items to try on and if they don’t fit, then there is a strong possibility that the customer will become disinterested or change their mind about making the purchase, rather than asking the store colleague for assistance. The Pyramid Smart fitting room uses high resolution smart screens, with motion-sensing and RFID technology to correctly identify the product that the customer has entered the room with, and the RFID tag will contain additional data such as sizing and style. If the shopper has any issue with the product fit or style, they can interact with store colleagues in another part of the store to help them find an alternative size or product, reducing the risk of customer dissatisfaction and lost sales.    

Once again, NRF has already provided some remarkable insights into the technologies that are reshaping the customer experience in retail around the globe. I look forward to experiencing more over the next few days as NRF dips further into the future of retail and exhibits what’s on the horizon for this new decade.