7-Eleven Point-of-Sale Deal with NEC Is About Much More than Payment Processing

As the President and CEO of a major technology subsidiary focused on delivering security, safety and operational efficiency using a broad technology portfolio we call the Smart Enterprise, I have the opportunity to meet and work with a lot of great companies and brands.

For example, I take great pride in the fact that NEC Corporation of America has such a longstanding, global relationship with 7-Eleven, Inc. The convenience store giant is a beacon of innovation in the retail industry, and through the years we have helped 7-Eleven build out its impressive IT platform.

This week, NEC announced an exciting, exclusive deal with 7-Eleven to provide point-of-sale (POS) technology to 8,600 stores across the United States and Canada. As we communicated in the news release, for 7-Eleven it’s a great new opportunity to connect with tech-savvy consumers at the register with an engaging, custom digital experience using our NEC TWINPOS® G5100 POS platform.

For us, it’s a great opportunity to continue to demonstrate that we do so much more than provide technology in the store. In this case, we are also offering fully integrated product development, service desk and maintenance support for the next five years.

7-ElevenThese are the types of customer relationships that excite me the most – integrated development and support.  Working with our customer, we are able to leverage real-time feedback in the labs to create a solution that does exactly what our client wants. To help us stay even more in-tune with our customer, we actually have a 7-Eleven store inside our headquarters building in Irving, Texas. We use it and shop there every day.  We serve as a testing ground for our customer, just as our customer often pushes us to innovate in their own environment.

The resulting relationship with 7-Eleven is the very the definition of Smart Retail, which allows retailers to gain insights to know their customers better and build a larger share of wallet. Together, we always have our eyes on the customer.

Over time, I am confident NEC will continue to contribute and enhance 7-Eleven’s customer experience and operational efficiency through a broad range of technologies.

The full gamut of NEC’s Retail Solutions are on display this coming week at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show 2017 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City.

If you are headed to the NRF or will be in New York City next week (January 15-17), I encourage you to come by and check it out.  Now in its 106th year, there is nothing quite like Retail’s Big Show.

As you can read online in our press release, the NEC booth #4121 will not disappoint and will showcase all of the technologies smart retailers can use to know their customers better, including our core POS hardware, software, cloud platform for retail, Infrastructure as a Service and lifecycle management solutions.  Likewise, NEC’s leadership in biometrics solutions, specifically facial recognition for use in loyalty program, as well as automated greetings and surveillance, will provide a bit of wow-factor in the booth.  Our industry leading analytics solutions for automated shelf detection, heat mapping and video shopper demographics will also be popular items.

Finally, we’ll be joined in booth by our colleagues at NEC Display Solutions, which offers 4K displays, video wall solutions, interactive displays and large format displays for a wide array of commercial and retail applications.

If you are a technologist in the retail industry, I encourage you to check out NEC’s full retail suite by heading over to www.necam.com/smartretail.

You just might be surprised at how we might be able to help you “Know Your Customer.”

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The Importance of Data Visibility In The Store –NEC Retail Technology Makes It Possible

For a small retail business, having the ability to see up to-the-minute sales information can mean whether or not you survive in the marketplace. This is especially true in the convenience store space, where reliable sales data, inventory control, loss prevention, and security are critical to a successful operation.

Some c-stores are independently owned but have a licensing agreement with a large, established company, which affords them the benefits of the company’s mentoring, marketing assistance and perhaps a more corporate look and feel, while they actually operate autonomously.  A major challenge in this arrangement, however, occurs when the company’s affiliated c-stores are working with old retail equipment from different manufactures.

This was the situation with many of Becker’s Affiliate Program store owners in Canada.  Becker’s is a brand operating under Alimentation Couche-Tard, Inc. (Couche-Tard), one of the largest convenience store operator companies in the world.  But without standardized, integrated technology in these affiliate stores, a network was impossible, and neither the affiliate program managers nor the individual store owners could access any sales information from these locations. Without sales data, the company was limited to providing general retail advice, making it difficult to support the survival of stores facing diverse challenges and having unknown issues.

NEC Retail Software Delivers Sales Visibility

NEC worked with Becker’s Central Canada Affiliates program and Gexin Inc., NEC’s Canadian partner, to offer the affiliate store owners a customizable POS system using NEC Stanchion® software. Together with Gexin, NEC standardized ten affiliate stores’ equipment and operational capabilities. Integration and store installations were completed in 3 months and were fully integrated with Gexin’s security system and reporting system to provide stores with sales information and metrics for smart product ordering and operational efficiency.

Store personnel were quickly trained on NEC’s software, which provides a customized dashboard showing their sales data in real-time, and delivers detailed reporting for each networked location to increase sales. Having access to this information provides the company as well as store owners with detailed sales information and working metrics for smarter product ordering and overall improved store efficiency—a first for these c-store owners.

Now, with this fully integrated system, NEC POS terminal, and their Network Video Recorder (NVR) can talk to each other. The information from the POS and security systems provide real-time sales analytics to the Becker’s Affiliate Program, so the company can provide customized support to the affiliate stores to help boost profitability, strengthen their survival rate, and help them grow their businesses.

NEC worked closely with this retail customer, to develop a deep understanding of their business and understand their technology pain points and provide the best solution to address the unique needs of both the company and the individual affiliate stores.

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Digital Retail Signage Solutions Come of Age with Additional Technology Capabilities

When was the last time you went to a retail store and had a great experience? No, I don’t mean customer service or super cool music in the dressing rooms. When was the last time that you went into a retail store and had a memorable experience that made you smile, or gave you more information about a product or service in real time than you might have gleaned online?

Retailers in particular have become more intrigued with digital signage over the last decade. The shift to digital meant that organizations could change their pricing, menus, or other details in real time, without needing to change out physical signage. Today, three types of digital signage are typically used in customer-facing environments.

Passive Signage

Passive signage is what you would encounter at a fast food restaurant at the airport. This type of digital signage is typically displayed on one or more screens, and either remains static all the time or changes at set intervals, such as a digital menu board that switches over at noon. Passive signage can be hosted on a local machine or over the Internet, and it’s generally more cost effective than running print jobs every time your business wants to make a change. It’s very utilitarian. However, it lacks the interactive element that really draws people in.

Interactive Signage

Interactive signage takes many forms, and is generally designed to provide a level of user interaction by being “triggered” by an event. Think of an iBeacon that sends a coupon to your mobile phone when you walk into your favorite clothing store or displays information about a painting when you hold your smart phone up next to it at the museum. Another example is signage triggered by sensors – when you lift that bottle of Bordeaux at the wine store, perhaps a light sensor is triggered and you see a map and information about the wine on a screen. Or you hold a piece of clothing up to a mirror in the changing room, and its RFID tag triggers signage behind a translucent mirror suggesting other pieces that may go with the skirt. This type of signage is indeed interactive and can be engaging, but the engagement is not always intuitive and there’s typically only one level of engagement between the individual and the signage.

Intelligent Signage

This brings us to a new type of digital signage. What if there was a way to create compelling in-store experiences in which customers could interact with a truly intuitive digital system, perhaps even order products on-screen, while also feeding interaction data back to the retailer or business owner? It is for this use case that intelligent signage, perhaps today’s most cutting-edge technology in retail and digital advertising, was designed.

One of the most interesting of these new systems is Microsoft’s Inception solution, which uses the Microsoft Kinect sensor to detect an individual’s proximity from the sensor, his/her age and gender (using NEC biometric facial recognition technology), and his/her interaction with products on a shelf. Different distances and interactions can trigger different layers of contextual signage, such as static or video advertisement screens, product pricing, technical specs, user reviews from the web and more. The system also records anonymous data such as the demographics and engagement time of individuals with various products, allowing advertisers and business owners to better understand their audience and the effectiveness of their signage.

Intelligent signage systems use advanced yet inexpensive hardware including the Kinect sensor and lightweight PCs such as those embedded in NEC commercial displays, and they can be combined with sensors in the ceiling (in-store heat mapping) or at a point of sale. This solution gives the business owner a broad understanding of how people traverse a particular store or the ages and genders of customers who are buying which products, at which times of day. Intelligent signage systems introduce analytics for the real world, and it’s going to change the way that we experience in-store retail.

But analytics, particularly analytics using Big Data, require more than an intelligent signage system to provide the analytics that will make them most useful to retail companies. One option is using Azure StreamAnalytics. This new offering from Microsoft provides real-time insight into what products are attracting the attention of shoppers, how product interest varies by age and gender, and which displays are attracting the most attention. Stores will be able to tune the shopping experience to maximize sales. Microsoft Azure StreamAnalytics is a new addition to the company’s Azure IoT (Internet of Things) Suite enabling the retail industry to build and deploy IoT solutions to transform the shopping experience and their business model.

What’s Next

With the digital signage market projected to grow a staggering 65% in 2015 alone, it’s more than likely that intelligent signage and audience measurement systems will be arriving soon at a business near you. Overall intelligent signage could lead not only to greater efficiencies in the retail sector, but also far more interesting in-store experiences for shoppers.

Where Can I Test Drive One of These Systems?

The Inception system will be demonstrated at the upcoming Microsoft Build (April 28 – May 1) and Microsoft Ignite (May 4-8) conferences.

Black Friday Sales Tanked?

According to this business reporter, Walmart is the reason Black Friday sales were down this year. While that is probably not the case, or at least not the whole picture, the results from Black Friday have proven interesting. The in-store sales numbers were down, while the online numbers were up 14.3 percent over 2013. Many retailers, including Walmart, chose to mark down items in the weeks leading up to Black Friday, giving consumers an opportunity to bargain shop in advance. Plus, the convenience of online shopping is difficult to overcome. It’s easy to grab a tablet and shop while lounging in your favorite chair.

So how does a retail brick and mortar establishment compete with this type of convenience? Create an amazing in-store experience!

Did Your Customers Have the Best Experience?

Customers have opinions about how you do business, and if you don’t succeed in fulfilling their expectations, they will shop somewhere else. A big part of what they want is an innovative, personalized experience that enables them to utilize online technology and access inside a brick-and-mortar store. That is a tall order!

Making reasonable and strategic efforts to fulfill customer expectations is important for 2015, particularly for those retailers who spent time this year analyzing the customer journey. To truly appreciate the importance of having a point-of-sale (POS) system that empowers customer expectations, consider who is actually doing the shopping over this holiday season.

According to a new report by Bankrate.com, a majority of Americans did not plan to shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.  They expect to find deals throughout the holiday season. The report also stated that Millennials were expected to be visiting stores on Black Friday in higher numbers than older Americans, and we are very aware of the tech-savvy, mobility centric ways of this generation.

As reported by the U.K. publication Retail Systems, a study by 1010data shows many Americans prefer to shop in stores because they do not want to wait on shipping. Additionally, 97 percent of study participants claimed they would purchase gifts early this year, with half of those starting before Thanksgiving and one in five participating in Black Friday. The reason? They want to ensure product availability.

Fully Connect with Your Shoppers

Whether catering to Millennials, bargain shoppers or early-birds who want to make sure they get that perfect gift, there are ways to improve the experience by embracing technology that your customers really want.  First, let’s discuss what that actually is:

Going Mobile

Shoppers are price and comparison shopping from the floor of your store. They are constantly connected now, and want to have that experience enabled in their brick-and-mortar store experience. This constant connectivity also changes the behavior of a shopper. They are no longer willing to wait in line to make a purchase. They believe they can find what is needed online and will simply exit your store if they are made to wait.

In addition, shoppers have significantly more information at their fingertips, so they are able to not only price shop, but feature compare as well. If the item you have in stock is not what they want, they will go find it somewhere else.
Fortunately, you can update your current POS to include mobility solutions that allow you to achieve the following:

  • Real-time access to data on the selling floor – Now you know what merchandise is in-stock, so you can serve customers more effectively.
  • Better up-selling and cross-selling – Get that key data to sales associates to help them to make better recommendations to customers.
  • Improved communication – Your team can collaborate from the sales floor, again better serving customers without sending them all over the store.

Dynamic Advertising

The ability to deliver real-time information and highly targeted messages is available now. Customers really want to feel like you care about them and are appreciative they shop in your store. Adding digital signage to a POS system provides you the opportunity to:

  • Reach customers where they shop
  • Increase sales volumes of higher margin merchandise
  • Suggest add-on merchandise to increase average purchase volume
  • Incorporate real-time data to present timely and relevant offers to customers at the point they make the buying decision
  • Customize messages for local storefronts easily

Now you can easily get that “wow” factor in your store and enhance the customer shopping experience.

Time to Go High Tech

Retailers who are able to cater to the connected nature of their shoppers will win the in-store experience, and have the ability to better compete with online retailers. However, to do so requires adding a strategy to improve mobility, interactivity and information by empowering the sales staff to access data and sell from the floor. Fortunately, NEC has retail solutions available now and can support you in implementation so you can stay focused on your business.

This is just the beginning. There are many more exciting technology trends coming that improve the customer experience, support better data analytics and increase security. Retail is in for some exciting innovation!