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NRF 2023: building uniform customer experiences

Close-up of the homepage of the National Retail Federation (NRF) website on a smartphone.  National Retail Federation is the world's largest retail association.
Image: Tada Images/Adobe Stock

Supply chain solutions, seamless customer experiences and sustainability were the focus this month at the National Retail Federation trade show in New York City. From tentpole software vendors like Google and Amazon Web Services to startups and critical partners, the show explored how technology is transforming retail today.

This is just a small selection of the new product announcements and organizations that were present at NRF 2023. While it’s not possible for us to list everything at the show, we’ve chosen these wrap-up highlights that highlight bigger trends or noteworthy technology to show. upwards.

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The state of retail today

According to NRF, holiday sales grew 5.3% in 2022 from 2021 to $936.3 billion.

While this is lower than the NRF’s forecast, it was “impressive annual retail sales and a respectable holiday season despite historic inflation levels and rate hikes to cool the economy,” said Matthew Shay, NRF’s president and CEO. “Consumers shopped in record numbers and retailers delivered positive holiday experiences to consumers wary of inflation, offering great products at more promotional price points to fit their tight budgets.”

Common themes this year included creating seamless customer experiences, making online shopping smoother, improving sustainability by reducing returns, leveraging 5G and the Internet of Things, and resolving persistent issues in the supply chain that started during the coronavirus pandemic.

IBM predicts 5G will top the list of retail tech investments by 2023. In a study commissioned by Morning Consult, IBM found that 38% of retail leaders plan to invest in 5G in the coming year, and 80% of retail leaders believe investing in 5G will benefit them in the long run. will make it more profitable.

New and proven applications for retail cloud

Carrying out the increased digitization of customer-facing services such as order kiosks requires a lot of computing power, even in physical stores. Cloud and 5G providers both see this as an opportunity. Cloud providers are trying to take the hosting work off the hands of retailers and offer more flexible user experiences in return.

For example, Oracle announced during the show that it has expanded its retail cloud platform with a cloud service for retail payments platform that accepts debit and credit cards, as well as Apple, Google, and Samsung Pay. For retailers, it is designed to smooth out the variable payment processing costs that depend on the processing service provider and card type. This cloud service provides a normalizing layer between the retailer and the payment.

SEE: Hiring Kit: Cloud Engineer (TechRepublic Premium)

How are point of sale services changing?

Other flagship organizations such as AWS, Microsoft, SAP, Zebra and more also attended the show to promote cloud services.

For example, Aptos, a major provider of retail cloud solutions and point-of-sale services, talked about the transition of stores from client-server configurations to the cloud. Their mobile and cloud-native approach to POS is designed in part to address in-store connectivity. Lost internet connections can be a problem due to inclement weather or simply a challenge due to the physical layout of the store.

As a result, their handheld devices sync to the cloud individually, so only one is likely to fail at a time. In the event of a signal loss during a transaction, it works in reverse: one device communicates that transaction to every device on the floor. The first device to come back online sends it to the cloud. The idea is to avoid a situation where the store’s entire stock of computers fails at the same time.

“Companies care about the devices in the store, not the server room,” said Nikki Baird, vice president of retail innovation at Aptos. “We don’t want them to worry about storage.”

Many organizations at the show encouraged the idea of ​​unified commerce, also known as omnichannel commerce. Baird pointed out that it takes two sides to come together: trade and inventory.

“As we define it, commerce is important, but you really need both sides of the equation,” she said. “You need the inventory where the customer wants it, when they want it, and when they’re ready to transact.”

Connectivity and hardware

Other companies solve connection problems in different ways. On the hardware side, TechRepublic has explored RFID tagging with Wiliot. While Wiliot’s tags are primarily useful for tracking items in the supply chain, other tags solve the problem of finding things in the store itself.

Handheld devices, order management systems, Amazon’s ubiquitous automated stores and the other companies emulating them were common sights on the NRF show floor. Some of these, like SAP’s coffee bar, add a digital shine to the experience of being a local. SAP provided a tag that would remember a customer’s regular order, speeding up the ordering process and skipping the interaction with a human cashier.

On the hardware side, some chip announcements stood out. Sony Semiconductor Solutions demonstrated several retail services powered by AITRIOS, an edge AI detection tool. AITRIOS adds AI smarts to cameras that detect and predict stock shortages. The AITRIOS platform includes developer tools, software development kits and a development environment to connect it to compatible cameras. We watched Vision Group demonstrate how AITRIOS enables a smart cooler that is turned on by an app.

SEE: Don’t Limit Your Excitement: Trends and Challenges in Edge Computing (TechRepublic)

Hughes also has some very interesting hardware in their new power distribution unit for their SD-WAN services, the Hughes Active Power Edge. It helps keep critical network equipment online.

“We know from our own customer support desk that a device reset is enough to resolve the issue in about a third of calls,” said Dan Rasmussen, senior vice president of the enterprise division at Hughes. “The Active Power Edge automatically completes that critical step to seamlessly maintain network uptime, saving customers time and costly downtime.”

This patented Active Power Edge PDU works with the HughesON suite of managed network services.

Rasmussen tapped into the show’s sentiment with his statement that products like this are meant to provide the customer with “optimum management, reliability, scalability and, ultimately, peace of mind.”

Are you looking forward to more retail technology in the coming year? View cybersecurity forecasts for 2023, data migration tips and retail AI forecasts.

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