NRF 2015: The talk of the trading hall

In a whirlwind of meetings, conference sessions and hard selling, the National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show has come to pass for another year.

Showcasing the latest in retail technology and solutions that are set to help businesses in the sector map out their path to success over the coming years, the event highlighted some common themes in multichannel retailing and many emerging focus points.

The need for connectivity; the desire for end-to-end tools that make life simpler; and the notion that after years of concern related to the future existence of the store, it should actually be placed at the heart of everything a retailer does and considered at each point of the technology investment process. These were just a few of the main trends sweeping around the halls of the Javits Convention Center in New York City, this week.

Essential Retail caught up with a number of the senior retail tech representatives attending NRF's show to gauge their views on the industry. This is what they said:

Pat Bakey, global general manager for retail at SAP:

"We were talking about all these topics here several years ago. They are still relevant but retailers are moving from 'I get these topics now and I get these gadgets you're recommending' to 'how do you do it?'. They want to understand how to operationalise these strategic messages.

"Sometimes we get infatuated with the big bang innovation, Google Glass and drones, etc, but at times innovation is creating something different or memorable.

"I was talking with customers about the experience they have with grocers. Customers expect them to deliver an experience, and the risk is in not delivering that. They are not getting anything new out of it; they are keeping their customer base.

"But what they want to do is create certain surprises through their insight so that a customer who visits is delighted. Innovation can be small surprises and sometimes it is the simple things that excite the most, and create the most innovative experiences."

Martin Butler, retail industry leader at IBM UK & Ireland:

"Retailers are starting to get more and more information about the customer because they are getting into social media, but they've got to start using that more effectively to get closer to their customers. The shopper wants to be understood in order to make their shopping experience easier, more convenient and more interesting.

"At the same time, they want to bring the digital experience into the store. You think of customer data and mobility, it screams out for the enterprise apps we're releasing with Apple."

IBM is also launching a European benchmark report, which looks at how the omnichannel capabilities are being deployed today by 170 retailers across 12 countries, and the results suggest there is a long way to go for retailers to catch up with what customers now demand.

"As you can imagine, there is a long way to go for most. The highest scores are in the 70s and the average is around 50," explained Butler.

"The criteria we've used is what customers are asking for; we're not making up a whole bunch of scary scientific stuff. There is a long way to go for those retailers, but the data currently demonstrates that the top end are all electricals retailers or department stores.

"If you haven't adopted eCommerce in electricals you're dead and if you're a department store not doing click & collect, for example – as House of Fraser, Debenhams and John Lewis are – you will not be making any money right now. We see those two sectors driving adoption of omnichannel retail."

Martin Schofield, managing director, professional services, for NCR in Northern Europe:

"We're finally seeing the centralisation and use of data in a sensible way, and NCR are among the companies working on applications that are starting to leverage that central data and benefit the customer service proposition.

"It's all about making use of what we've been collecting for many years, but finally delivering it in a clever and useful way.

"In-store customers need to be talking to someone who gives them real guidance and doesn't just take their money and point them in the right direction. We are seeing it with the clientelling applications where we are finally putting more information into the employees' hands so that they can be an adviser to a customer.

"It's about taking the intelligence of your best sales people and deploying it to the masses so they can give the same level of service as your top 10% can."

Lisa Fretwell, internet of everything managing director at Cisco Systems:

"Retailers are coming to us with problems around things such as 'how do I optimise my store?' There are stores with flat like-for likes or declining like-for-likes and retailers are saying they need something that's going to help change the store or they are going to have to reduce space and take stores out of the network.

"In terms of what retailers are interested in around the concept of Internet of Everything (IoE), there are three main opportunity areas; one is digitising ways of working. We are told that 48% of their processes are capable of being digitised, so there's huge value to gain here.

"The other side is developing customer experiences, which is using digital to create customer insight and also using digital marketing – and 70% of retailers are prioritising this area in terms of investment spend.

"The final area of IoE is around creating new business models. It's absolutely vital that retailers are very differentiated and they require significant innovation.

"It's about applying a lot of the capabilities we now have to the age-old retail problems. Being able to create visible inventories is something I've seen quite a lot of this year, and it's great to see step changes in this technology."

Cliff Crosbie, SVP of global retail at Prism Skylabs:

"Having been a retailer myself, the technology to use has to offer real-time benefits. I would like to be in my store in the morning, putting a new display in place and by lunchtime know if it's working or whether I need to change something.

"Some of the retailers I've learned from, such as Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, is that customers are passing by every second – and every second you waste by not changing something loses you money. The trick about being in real-time and being able to change something and action it real quickly is how it has to be – whether it's online, offline or wherever – you need that information to be part of your decision process."

Peter Charness, SVP North America, global CMO at TXT Retail:

"As retailers start to have experience by implementing omnichannel capabilities, their attention is starting to turn towards the challenges involved in managing inventory in a world where the sale can occur in one location but the inventory to support that sale often comes from a completely different location.

"Retailers are looking for solutions that help planning and managing in this scenario become more feasible."

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NRF's Big Show