Taking a look at NRF16: Trends in retail industry technology

Feb. 18, 2016

By Richard Ventura, Vice President of Business Development and Solutions, NEC Display Solutions of America

We live in an ultra-connected world. It seems like every day a new technology enters common use, making our lives easier while keeping us ever more plugged in — and causing us to wonder, "How on earth did we function before?"

The retail landscape is no different; every year new data points to technology's impact on how people shop, and the day that consumers use cutting-edge technology to navigate and make every single purchase is not far away.

Retailers need to keep on top of technology trends to stay relevant and aligned with their customers' digital needs. According to the Global Powers of Retailing 2016 report by Deloitte, "With more shoppers — both in the developed and developing worlds — embracing cultural trends and gaining access to technology that will allow them to be 'connected' 100 percent of the time, retailers worldwide need to advance their own offerings to fit the behaviors of this new consumer."

Industry shows are a great way to see what's out there and what's coming, and the 2016 National Retail Federation trade show featured some key advancements that will help retailers reach new heights of customer engagement using digital technology.

Analytics and biometrics

Intense competition for a customer's attention and dollars means that retailers need to be savvy about how they market to consumers, and the NRF Show featured several applications that can capture data for this purpose.

For example, one technology showcased the ability to determine a customer's gender and age group with facial-recognition tools as well as location using heat mapping, which can help retailers target advertising toward a specific demographic. Using biometrics, a retailer can learn what age group and gender are shopping in a store at different times throughout the day, and can schedule digital advertising that would appeal to the customers most likely to be in the store. Biometrics also can show how long a customer paused in front of a digital advertisement, helping to measure the effectiveness of an ad.

Analytics and technology can make shopping a more exciting experience for the customer while increasing average sales for a retailer. Picture this at a grocery or specialty food store: As a customer picks up an item from an end cap, a digital display above the item shows allergy and caloric information as well as interesting tidbits like the region of the world the item is from, while another display shows popular recipes that use the food item. As the customer selects a recipe on the touchscreen, the display pulls information from a database to show where the other ingredients can be found in the store.

Customers leave with the makings of a great meal, and the store increased its sales by using data and digital displays to suggest items the customers would never have purchased on their own. Meanwhile, a camera captured how many items were picked up and purchased from the end cap, and a database stored that information to be analyzed for future marketing decisions. The POS system can also be integrated into the analytics so that a store can see how many advertised items ended up on the same receipt and whether items were purchased during times they were advertised on digital displays.

RFID and sensors

RFID is nothing new, but has generally only been used on a small scale until now, assisting retailers with inventory as well as content and marketing.

On the marketing side, RFID can allow a retailer to see what items customers are picking up or about to purchase, and couple this with targeted digital advertising. For example, when a customer is looking at a pair of pants, the RFID tag activates nearby digital displays that show accessories or shirts that would look good with the pants. As the customer scrolls through the options and picks out a shirt, they can hit a button that will tell a store employee to bring it over so they can try it on. Further, the use of RFID will allow the customer to trigger product-specific content and allow for better interaction with the brand.

RFID and sensors are creating new ways of keeping stock of inventory as well as preventing shrinkage. RFID tags can be embedded into every item in the store, so that the store is a virtual blanket of RFID data connected to a central data repository in the back end that provides analytics. A retailer can know at any given moment where every item is in the store, giving the ability to see whether toothbrushes in aisle three are running low and need restocking, or whether an expensive purse is leaving the store without having been paid for.

RFID tags also can be coupled with biometrics; biometric tools can measure the dwell time of a customer in front of a digital display ad, and tracking an RFID tag can show whether that customer then picked up the advertised item and purchased it.

Self-service and the "endless aisle"

If a customer enters a store and wants to ask an employee about an item, but all employees are busy, the customer may get frustrated and leave — or even worse, make the purchase from a competitor or an online-only retailer.

RFID tags on inventory coupled with digital display technology can get a customer instantaneous service no matter how busy a store is, helping to eliminate the brick-and-mortar retailer fear — known as "showrooming" — that a customer is in a store only to browse before buying online. If all associates are busy, the customer can launch information about a product on a video wall, and use a touchscreen to navigate; the RFID tag can link to an inventory database and shows the customer on the display that her size or the color she wants is in stock, so she can buy it right then and there. The customer is able to use technology to learn about the product and make purchases – not through a computer or phone screen, but right in the store.

The "endless aisle" is another concept that can benefit both consumers and retailers. Using a retailer's app or a kiosk in the store, customers can access every single item the retailer carries, beyond what is just in the physical store, and can buy it from there, to be picked up later or delivered right to the home — so even if a store is out of an item or doesn't carry it normally, customers can buy it as they are in the store and thinking about it.

Augmented reality and virtual reality

Another NRF hot topic, augmented reality/virtual reality, lets customers use technology to see images of what could be actual reality after they make purchases.

One use for augmented reality is to allow a customer to see what an item looks like on his or her body — and help a store with loss prevention at the same time. For example, a customer stands in front of a "digital mirror" and indicates, using a button, what item he or she is interested in — and there it is, the necklace or sunglasses, superimposed on their mirror image without having to try on anything, and without anything having to come out of a case.

Virtual reality can be especially helpful in a home décor or home improvement retail space. One booth at NRF showed a small-scale model of a kitchen with white boxes inside representing a kitchen island, appliances and cabinetry. A customer could place the boxes within the space and then put on virtual reality glasses to take a 3D tour of the kitchen — and then move items around to perfect the layout.

Integration and interactivity

Perhaps the biggest trend seen at NRF in 2016 was the ways all of these technologies can now integrate with each other as well as existing technologies like POS systems, mobile phones, Wi-Fi and digital signage to create a retail force to be reckoned with — marketing platforms that use biometrics, analytics, targeted advertising displays, self-service apps and kiosks, triggers and sensors, and augmented and virtual reality to drive sales through highly interactive stores.

As today's customers demand a more connected shopping experience, technologies like those seen at NRF 2016 can make retailers smarter about how they advertise and sell, generating greater profit and creating happier, more loyal customers.

Richard Ventura is Vice President of Business Development and Solutions for NEC Display Solutions (www.necdisplay.com). He can be reached at rventura@necdisplay.com.

Topics: Customer Experience, Retail, Trends / Statistics

Companies: NEC Display Solutions

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