This is the first National Retail Federation Expo I’ve attended, and I must say it exceeded all of my expectations and reshaped my view of retail. Over three days in New York, I met with more than 30 vendors and had many wonderful discussions about the changes revolutionizing store operations, hardware and software developments, front-end and back-end integration, and retail analytics. HPE generated a lot of buzz on the floor with demos of its machine-learning algorithm in reducing and preventing store inventory shrinkage. And Checkpoint showed me their new RFID tunnels that promised an impressive 99.9% accuracy[i]. As a supply chain and logistics management professional, I look at these latest developments from a different angle. My top three key takeaways:
- Digital store operations have huge implications for planning and fulfillment. I was amazed to see how much technology has been developed to improve store operational efficiency and customer experience, such as Theatro’s voice-controlled wearable. But the hidden benefits of all this for supply chain managers are still under-explored. Take the latest in-store RFID application from Tyco Retail Solutions: Stores are primarily using it inside fitting rooms to track what items customers have bought or left behind. The same application and the data it captures could give retailers and their upstream suppliers unprecedented insights into what items are most or least popular and how fast they are selling, allowing far more accurate and deliberate replenishment and inventory.
- Stores and warehouses are not that different anymore. In-store labor and task management were a key theme at this year’s NRF show. For a logistics management professional, this is not new: Labor and task management have been the top priorities inside warehouses for a long time. What we see changing is that retail stores have essentially become small fulfillment centers, and that the types of tasks retailers now accomplish inside them have dramatically increased. Labor constraints are pushing retailers to optimize in-store operations as much as they can — which is exactly what their peers in the warehouse started decades ago.
- Change management is the key to success. I asked vendors what the key to success in today’s ultra-tough market is. Surprisingly, they agreed that it is change management, not adopting the newest software or hardware. Tools are only enablers. Without truly embracing the organizational, cultural and processes changes, any investment is a waste. Having a C-Suite executive lead change management and having a clear business outcome goal in mind is critical before adopting any new technology.
If you want to know more about how to improve omni-channel fulfillment operations, better control inventory management, apply advanced analytics to your business, and how better logistics can help your company win, serve, and retain customers, check out: