Guest Blog By Steve Jeffery
A new year always presents the opportunity to take stock of where an industry is headed, and NRF’s Big Show in January certainly gives those of us in the retail technology space a leg up in understanding what retailers are thinking about, talking about and planning for in the year ahead. After a very busy week and many great conversations with senior retail executives, store managers, IT innovators, partners and more, it’s exciting to get back to work with tangible feedback about what retailers are challenged by, and what they are energized by, as the ways in which today’s consumers spend their dollars continue to evolve. Here are some of the key trends and themes that resonated:
- A growing interest in in-store technologies
As online shopping continues to put pressure on brick and mortar sales, it was interesting to see that a lot of people were talking about the importance of in-store technologies, and the in-store experience specifically. This makes sense – online merchants are pretty sophisticated about using data analytics technologies to improve and personalize the shopping experience for their customers, and brick and mortar retailers will need to step up their in-store analytics to do the same. I was especially struck by a line from a presentation given by Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and Chairman of Twitter: “Going back to physical places, there’s a real asset in having physical space. What technology can do is make that more efficient to connect a customer to a product or service, but it all ends up in a physical space.” Retailers want and need technologies that can help them optimize their assets, whether virtual or brick and mortar. And since the vast majority of all purchases (92 percent according to Gartner) still happen in physical stores, it’s exciting to see more and more retailers recognizing the importance of in-store solutions.
- Shift from “behind the scenes” to customer facing technologies
This really was the year of the consumer at NRF, as the focus was squarely on technologies that can be engaged to improve the customer experience, with less emphasis on solutions for inventory and supply chain management. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First, retailers have already recognized the vital importance of back-end supply chain technologies and made investments. This gives them the opportunity to now direct more resources toward improving customer-facing operations. Second, as online channels are wooing consumers with everything from vast product selections to free shipping, the role of the store is changing, making the customer experience more important than ever. When the competition is just a mouse click away, brick and mortar stores need to be doing everything they can to understand the drivers behind in-store purchasing and on improving the variables (whether it’s register wait times, personal service, displays, etc.) that can help convert more store visitors into buyers.
- Retail data and what to do with it
Through numerous technical innovations, the amount and variety of data that can now be collected in the store is growing by leaps and bounds. But the real value lies in transforming this data into insight that drives specific actions for improving retail performance. My sense from NRF is that retailers are still feeling their way here, and are really looking for guidance in terms of how to most effectively analyze, integrate and use the data that they are able to capture, both in-store and online. Some of the issues they are thinking about include storage, data privacy, timing and how to separate information that’s important from information that’s just “noise.” Technology vendors that focus on finding ways to help retailers navigate in this landscape will be one step ahead.
- Desire for single-platform data analytics solution
Is there a “killer app” for retail analytics? In my discussion with retailers at NRF, the question of “the next big thing” seemed less important than finding the “most useful and practical thing.” They are attracted to platforms that can do multiple types of analysis and leverage multiple types of data, including in-store traffic data, behavior data, security data, data from back end systems and more. In an environment where so many businesses need to find ways to do more with less, a multi-purpose solution that can be used to address several areas of focus is an attractive proposition.
As always, The Big Show was a great learning experience. Now comes the fun part – applying the lessons learned to winning innovation in the months ahead.
Steve Jeffery is CEO of Brickstream