NRF 2017: How US retailers & brands are using technology to revolutionise the in-store experience

26 January 2017

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With a successful peak season under our belts, Paul Aspden, our Client Solutions Director, flew off to New York last week to immerse himself in NRF 2017 - the world’s biggest retail show, and to check out how US retailers and brands are digitising their stores.

Paul talks us through his time in New York where he split his days between the exhibition halls of NRF and the sidewalks of 5th Avenue, researching how retailers are leveraging the very latest technology on the market to revolutionise the in-store experience.

 

Kiosks

I think it's fair to say that the in-store kiosk, in its various guises, is starting to become embedded in the store experience, however it has very different levels of functionality.

Premium brand flagship stores seem to be focussing on the product accentuation piece, driving features such as extended product detail and media; simple add to, and sharing of wishlists; through to local insight for example, recommendations of places to go in the local vicinity.

However other retailers are choosing to retail from their kiosks, with the most significant feature being the provision of very clear and efficient ways for the customer and the retail assistant to Search for a product. The focus on Search is clearly all about getting to the right product faster, whether using assisted selling or self-service kiosks.

Even though many are getting in on the kiosk game, very few are connecting the digital and in-store experience...but it will only be a matter of time before they do.

With 80% of people walking into a store ready to buy, it’s more important than ever to make sure you have the technology in place to enable a sale from a wider stock pool than just the store itself.

 

Digital screens and signage management

NRF, and in particular 5th avenue, were awash with a significant number of screens. From tiny HD / 4K screens which allow the retailer to position and change messaging on the front edge of shelves (where pricing information would historically have been), through to huge 15metre LED-based mega screens, which allow the retailer to paint huge areas of the store environment with video and image based content.

Whilst the options for screen ratios and sizes keeps increasing, it is inevitable that retailers who choose to fill their in-store environments with them, will need media management and kiosk solutions that not only place video and images on the right screen at the right time, but also link into the core ecommerce platform, in order for them to drive and capture sales.

 

Bots, bots and more bots

From the big players to the small vendors, everyone seemed to be offering a bot engine of sorts and it's easy to see why! There will be a great ROI for any retailer that starts to get this right. If orchestrated in the right way, I can imagine that most customer service contact will be handled by bots in the future. Leveraging Facebook’s Messenger service, in order to broker the conversation between a human and a customer service bot, seemed to be the most used at present.

 

Lift & Learn with NFC

Walking around the show, it was clear that NFC and RFID Lift & Learn solutions are generating lots of attention. The experience of handling tangible products synchronised with digital engagement is going to become very widespread over the next year. Whilst we’re currently seeing niche units in stores that create a localised Lift & Learn experience for a few feature products, the big challenge for retailers and suppliers will be scaling this, so that every product in-store is tagged. If the ROI of tagging is proven, then we will certainly see more in-store screens reacting to the product in a customer's hand.

In the future, retailers will potentially be able to realise additional benefits such as measuring stock migration, levels and loss.

Lift & Learn technology

 

Augmented Reality

Always ahead of the game with new technology, Nike is a brand that has invested heavily in Augmented Reality. Their flagship New York  store has running machines positioned in front of huge screens which allow customers to go for a run through famous running routes such as Central Park.

Whilst a cool use of technology,  I can imagine it’ll only be a matter of time before the Virtual Reality helmets replace the screens and fixed person view, to provide a complete virtualisation of the run.

Nike virtual reality

 

Conductive surfaces

A fascinating new innovation I came across at the show was the concept of painting store walls and floors with conductive paint, allowing footsteps or touching of walls to trigger media playback, or even navigation directly to a product on a kiosk. Whilst the maintenance of surfaces such as these could be challenging, conductive surfaces really do have the potential to create a very physical interface between store surfaces and the digital world. Think artists painting walls that power digital signage, kiosks or even games!

 

Virtual Reality

Plenty of tech vendors were sporting workflow optimisation solutions using VR technology, but really nothing beyond visualising store fits and helping merchandisers view and arrange shelf plans. However, I think we are going to to see a lot more VR headsets in-store aimed at providing product experiences in a virtual world. Think Adidas allowing you to see and feel what it's like to walk the Liverpool tunnel on derby day....

 

I had a great few days in New York spending time with our partners, clients and fellow tech vendors at NRF 2017. Now back in the UK, I’m busy updating the One iota team on some highly innovative and inspirational technologies, that could be real game-changers for our clients when it comes to transforming the in-store experience for their customers.

If you’d like to find out any more about the above technologies, or discuss any ideas you have for your stores, then simply call us on 0843 216 1010 or email info@itsoneiota.com

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