More than 600 exhibitors and 35,000 retail industry professionals (including some of our own Worldlink team members!) recently flocked to New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center for the biggest retail trade show of the year – the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Big Show 2018. The conference brought together industry professionals to focus on one overarching message; how technology continues to push retail innovation forward and how it is the key to successfully delivering a meaningful experience to the modern customer. The three-day event made clear just how important it is for retailers to adopt technology if they want to remain relevant among digitally savvy shoppers.
Here’s a look at the major technology topics that stole the show this year:
Customers are becoming more comfortable using augmented and virtual reality and are open to using this technology more often. Retailers see great success with it as a means for customers to “test-drive” merchandise prior to making a purchase and make more educated buying decisions.
Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Machine Learning
If there was one technology that dominated the Big Show this year, it was artificial intelligence. Companies including eBay, Williams-Sonoma, and Alibaba share how AI, machine learning, and other similar analytics tools are enhancing their ability to execute marketing and merchandising strategies. AI was at the center of major tech announcements, including IBM's new V9 Watson-enabled commerce platform. A recent IDC study reports that by 2019, 40% of retailers will have developed a customer experience strategy supported in some way by artificial intelligence.
Discussion urged retailers to stop viewing AI as a threat that eliminates jobs, and instead embrace the technology as a tool that can solve their business problems. It can give retailers greater insight into consumer behavior and make store operations more efficient. As it becomes more mainstream, it’s becoming more affordable and easier to use, allowing retailers to collect essential data and turn it into actionable insights.
E-commerce and physical stores are becoming the same; both channels must work together synergistically. The way things are structured internally is the biggest impediment to a truly unified vision. Retailers need to change their silo-style approach to one that’s more platform oriented. The right unified commerce platform can help retailers break down internal channel silos, allowing them to expand offerings and experiences across new locations, channels, and moments throughout the buyer journey. Worldlink VP of Sale, Brett Busconi, said of the synergy, “I think that any way we can realize the reality of Unified Commerce is a right way – there are so many different retailers out there and different ways to match services and products to meet this end goal.”
In the area of mobility, retailers will continue to be affected by rapidly evolving technology and expansion. Mobile technology is not longer an extra perk, but a shopping expectation. And it doesn’t just benefit the customer. By putting mobile solutions into the hands of associates, employees can complete store-level operations more efficiently, including confirming inbound shipments, managing inventory, locating out-of-stock merchandise for shoppers and tendering customer orders – all without ever leaving the sales floor.
Target is doing this with My Checkout, an Android-based mobile solution that keeps associates out of the back room and on the floor with customers. Employees can use mobile devices to digitally locate out-of-stock merchandise and place an order that will be shipped directly to the customer’s home.
Jeff Thomson, Worldlink Account Manager, concludes, “It is clear technology will continue to evolve the customer shopping experience, and NRF showcased some of the things we will begin to see hit stores shortly. I believe customer interaction and engagement will evolve to include more AR, robotics, and customizable offers which will enhance and change the shopping experience. Great show.”
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