NRF Showed 2018 Will Be the Year of Data, Analytics and Intelligence for Retailers

Last month, our own VP of Retail Solutions, Matt Worley predicted some emerging retail technologies he expected to see at NRF 2018 Retail’s Big Show in New York City. He described five technologies that, when combined effectively, will let in-store retailers create a frictionless, more personalized experience for their customers, all while making their operations more efficient and cost-effective.

Now that the show is over, I can confirm Matt’s prediction of where in-store retail is headed this year, namely that retailers will apply these technologies to make the entire store more customer-aware.

Store and Customer Analytics
When a shopper visits an online store, the retailer knows where they clicked, what they looked at, what they read, how long they stayed on each page—and that’s just for starters. The site collects data on the items you put in your “cart,” the ones you removed, and what you replaced them with. All this data is analyzed to reveal the customer’s behaviors and underlying preferences, allowing the experience to be customized on future encounters.

So, why shouldn’t brick-and-mortar retailers gain the same type of insights? It’s all about analyzing and applying the data collected in the store.. Retailers can use it to optimize inventory management and store personnel scheduling—traditional back office functions—but also to elevate the customer’s shopping experience to levels they are only accustomed to finding online.

Shelf Analytics and Order Optimization
Show attendees were very excited about potential applications of shelf analytics. For example, a fresh foods store can keep track of how long items have been on the shelf or in the cooler, to better maintain freshness levels of the inventory. Today, many retailers use RFID tags—to better manage inventory levels and loss prevention. Using RFID tags isn’t practical. Not only are they expensive from an investment standpoint they are wasteful, as tags typically get thrown in the trash when the customer discards the packaging at home.

A less expensive and more environment-friendly alternative is NEC’s machine-learning order optimization application that helps retailers predict sales numbers to reduce inventory or overstock shelves. Shelf inventory and digital signage solutions can identify an item as the customer removes it from the shelf, then determine whether the customer puts the item is the basket or returns it to the shelf. Once in the cart, nearby displays can offer helpful tips, related videos, coupons or other shopping assistance, all based on the item selected.

By tracking all the items in the basket, the solution helps manage inventory control, ordering and stocking, not to mention preparing the customer for the checkout counter.

Such solutions can be adapted to a wide range of retail verticals and applications, to promote additional purchases, reduce waste, automate and optimize inventory orders, and more. All the while, they promote a healthier bottom line, make operations more efficient, and improve the customer experience—just like an online experience does or better.

It’s All About Data, Analytics and Intelligence
This year the focus of the show was less about hardware and more about artificial intelligence, data gathering and mining and analytics. Yes, you need hardware devices to perform all these things. Interactive kiosks, IP cameras, smart tags and displays and so on, not to mention the enterprise software and storage. What it really comes down too, is the ability to connect all that data to the back office, taking and using it to make data-driven decisions based on actionable insights in the store.

Here retailers can see actual, functioning AR and AI retail solutions like CaliBurger. If NRF 2018 was any indication, this year’s retailers will be focused on data, analytics, and intelligence. From the customer perspective, it’s all about the store experience and convenience these solutions bring. From the retailer’s perspective, it’s about bringing customers back from online and into the store. But what it’s really about, is making the entire store smarter and more efficient.

What’s does retail intelligence run on? A robust foundation on which to gather, store, analyze and act upon the resulting insights. Watch this space for articles about the NEC Smart Enterprise solutions that provides a secure foundation for retailers and other industries.

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NRF 2018: Five Trends We Think Will Transform Brick and Mortar Again

Last year, our show theme at NRF 2017 was Know Your Customer. This year, we think it’s time to use that knowledge to transform brick-and-mortar retail once again, helping it compete with online retailers.

How can in-store retailers create a frictionless, more personalized experience for their customers, while still making their own in-store processes more efficient and cost effective? At NEC we believe it’s by applying key technologies to make the entire store more customer-aware.

Here are five of those technologies we expect to see on display at NRF 2018.

#1 Data and data analytics in full swing

Think about it. Big online retailers seem to know more about you than you do.
They know what to show you and recommend to you, what you’ve looked at, “liked” or bought before—even what you’re likely to want next. By crunching all that collected data with demographics, preferences and social media data, they can predict what shoppers will best respond to.

Why shouldn’t brick-and-mortar retailers collect, analyze and apply the data available to them to tailor the in-store customer experience, too? After all, everything else being the same, there’s still nothing quite like an in-person shopping experience. And analytics can help retailers better tailor their outreach—via emails, app notifications, even in-store messaging—to bring customers back into the store.

#2 Loyalty programs enhanced by facial recognition

Face it – technology can also help with building and retaining loyal customers, by making rewards program more effective and personal.

Using facial recognition technology, for example, a retailer can identify a frequent shopper or loyalty member as soon as they enter the store. Store clerks are able to greet them by name and make suggestions based on past purchases. And later, at checkout, you can automatically apply loyalty rewards and special savings, based on their status.

#3 In-store digital signage becomes customer aware

Digital signage is nothing new in retail, but when paired with facial recognition and big data analytics, it can become customer aware. That means shelf tags and screens can display messages or ads to the nearest customer, calling attention to nearby items or specials that past behavior indicates might appeal to that customer.

But smart signage can also utilize object recognition to enhance the customer experience. This technology can detect when the shopper picks up an item (or puts it back) and direct the signage to display personalized information. For example, more product information, available options, upsell ads, or even warning about potential allergic reactions—and make alternate recommendations.

#4 Chatbots with AI and AR help both customers and staff

What if a coffeemaker needs a filter change or a checkout printer needs the ink cartridge replaced? Little things like this can bring operations to a halt, and in turn affect how well associates take care of their customers.

Instead waiting on a repair, a store associate could quickly use a tablet at the malfunction to virtually chat with a robot (artificial intelligence) about how to fix the issue. Augmented reality (AR) can even show the associate how to get the device back up and running “live”—so they can get back to serving customers.
Shoppers could benefit directly from AI/AR chatbots, too. Pointing a smartphone at an item, the chatbot could answer questions, show the customer what’s size and colors are in stock, even show the shopper wearing the items before trying it on. Of course, a chatbot can also summon an associate over to help them personally.

#5 POS and check out becomes fast, easy and automatic

And let’s forget not the checkout experience. For single-item and multi-item purchases, using biometrics and object recognition-augmented POS systems allow for an efficient, frictionless checkout experience.

How would this work? Using both facial and object recognition, the POS solution identifies both the shopper and the items as she puts them on the counter. The system quickly totals the bill—applying the appropriate discounts and rewards based on the shopper’s loyalty status—and the customer pays with a mere glance at the camera. Now that’s convenient for the customer—and efficient for the store, too.

Which technology trend will be the winner this year?

Do you see five separate technologies in our NRF 2018 predictions—or one huge opportunity for transforming brick-and-mortar retail once again?
In each of our scenarios, it’s difficult to see these applications as separate technologies. At NEC, we think the key is unifying them to make the whole store customer-aware, from end-to-end.

At NRF 2018, you’ll see how our retail and advanced recognition solutions work together, to provide more efficient store operations, and for customers, a seamless, frictionless and more personalized experience.

True, technology helps retailers get shoppers in-and-out of the store more quickly—if that’s what they want. But more importantly, NEC retail solutions allow them to spend more time enjoying the actual shopping experience. And isn’t a personal, in-store experience what brick-and-mortar retail has that online shopping simply can’t provide?

Register today to receive a free pass to NRF 2018, Retail’s Big Event