The National Retail Federation is the world's largest retail trade association. Its members include department stores, specialty, discount, catalog, Internet, and independent retailers, chain restaurants, and grocery stores. “Retail’s Big Show” is an annual event at the NYC Javits Center with keynote speeches, presentations, and a expo of thousands of retail industry vendors.
During the first keynote presentation at NRF on January 15th., GameStop EVP and President, Mike Mauler, quipped “The true power of the loyalty program… it’s not the points or perks. It’s understanding customer data and using that knowledge.” This early comment seemed to frame one of the major themes of this year’s show. While consumers are enticed by accruing points and rewards by patronizing a business, the larger opportunity to win loyalty is by better understanding customers and delivering a more personalized, enjoyable experience.
This philosophy was on display throughout many of the subsequent presentations—most of which focused keenly on the role of mobile smartphone technology. This comes to no surprise as in the last year, we’ve hit a point where there is as much internet traffic on mobile devices as on desktop. Jeremy Gilman of DMI Mobile Consultants presented a study (How Retail is Failing the Needs of Mobile Customers) where his company went as far as identifying that about 30% of consumers are “mobile reliant” and make use of mobile internet throughout their entire day. His belief is that all retailers need to better incorporate smartphones in the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. Broadly, the message of Gilman’s presentation (and others’) was that all retailers, including Fortune 500 companies, have generally not done this well. But he did provide one example--True Religion retail clothing stores--that might catch on and capture imaginations. Near the end of 2016, True Religion outfitted their store associates at a handful of test locations with Apple Watches, which would alert them when someone with their mobile app enters the store--providing them their past order history and details on how to get more out of the interaction. The associates can also provide checkout on the spot rather than forcing the customer to queue up at a cash register at the front of the store. You can read more on this experiment here.
In the wine and spirits retail industry, there’s sometimes a sense that we’re “behind the times” when it comes to technology and how it’s used. However, with respect to some of these themes, there is a lot of promise when looking at our industry’s small businesses. Despite the fact that many of our industry’s retailers rely on proprietary eCommerce web platforms like BevSites (vs. SaaS/open-source systems like Shopify and Magento), mobile optimization of the web eCommerce experience has become commonplace and affordable. Perhaps even more promising is that in the last year, there’s now a reasonably-priced path for a store to have their own branded app through Drync.com. If Drync builds on their success in this past year (or if other legitimate app platforms hit the market), our industry’s small businesses will realistically be able to access all the building blocks needed to serve their customers wherever they are, however they’re connecting to the internet.
While we were able to sit in on many very good presentations, much of the focus of NRF is on the Expo, the hundreds of vendors with retail solutions that range from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems to money counting machines to security camera equipment. We did have a chance to speak with a number of vendors.
Here are 5 of our most notable interactions:
Much of the NRF Expo showcases cutting edge technology that is simply not realistically going to work within the budget of a small business. Pointy, however, is specifically intended for small business. They offer a piece of hardware that integrates with UPC scanners and builds a simple web presence with the scanned items. The site itself is search engine optimized to capture traffic on local consumers' product searches. It’s an interesting solution for retailers across all industries that don’t have the budget nor time to create a website on their own. The cost of the Pointy hardware is a one-time fee of $299, and the set-up takes only minutes.
Biometric Fingerprint Verification on POS System
A number of different vendors have started to build hardware that requires cashiers and store managers to use a fingerprint reader to log into the POS system. The main goal is to cut down on employee misconduct (theft, “punching in” for someone running late) by tying a log-in to a fingerprint instead of a username and password that can be shared. At this time, we know that Magstar Total Retail has begun offering the service, and it’ll be interesting to see if other POS vendors in the wine and spirits industry do so as well.
Given the strong themes of personalizing in-store shopping, it wasn’t surprising to find many hardware vendors with this aim in mind. Sophatar is an example of a young company whose solution is to couple Apple TV’s/iPads with a companion mobile app for consumers. If a consumer has the app installed, Apple TV/iPads can interact with the user via Bluetooth signals and customize the display based on their information. The example at NRF showed advertisements on key items in a grocery aisle based on profile preferences that can be based on customer sales history and/or profile preferences the consumer sets in the app.
CashStar is a Portland, ME based company that specializes in “prepaid commerce solutions”. We had the pleasure of being able to sit in on a talk they gave regarding work they’ve done with Nordstrom.com and the “Give as eGift” function on their website. The service shows how Nordstrom.com has functionality to let someone select a gift, enter in the recipient’s information, pay for it, and then alerts the recipient via email of the gift selection. The recipient can then either accept the gift and specify the shipping address, or exchange the gift for something else or convert it to a gift card.
Digital Price Tags and Product Info Displays
One of the most common pieces of hardware on the floor of the Expo were digital price tags that integrate pricing data from the POS system. What was notable was the range of different options, which included variations that added product descriptions. The pricing of this hardware is still on the expensive side, but we’ve seen a few stores implementing it to some extent. Besides giving the shelves a clean, uniform look, it’s also helpful for making price adjustments more quickly, efficiently, and accurately.