Bossa Nova Shelf tracking robot at the Intel Retail Booth at #NRF2018
Bossa Nova Shelf tracking at the Intel Retail Booth at #NRF2018

At the packed NRF Big Show #NRF2018 in New York last week, many retailers looked at vendors touting new tech, including AI, AR/VR, and more, all in the name of improving customer experiences. But most of those same retailers know that, before leaping into that arena, they first need to bring existing systems up to speed, enable their front-line associates, and figure out how to build seamless, consistent experiences across online digital and the store.[1]

Many Technologies Enable Better Engagement

Vendors focused on retailer priorities because they understand the importance that retailers place on their customer relationships.  Smart vendors mapped business solutions that allow retail associates to engage customers in the store by automating or simplifying tasks.[2]  Notable technology that I spotted on the show floor (in no particular order) included:

  • Digital Scanning. Wegmans has adopted watermarked packaging on private label products using Digimarc barcoding technology.  Eliminating the barcode – or rather, making it invisible and embedding it all over the packaging – makes it far simpler (and faster) for associates to simply swipe the package across the register, rather than figure out where the bar code is.
  • Shelf Tracking. Walmart has deployed robotic shelf tracking across 50 stores and Lowe’s is expanding the Lowebot for shelf tracking.  Intel and Bossa Nova Robotics partnered with Walmart to shift associate engagement from checking for items out of place on shelves and out of stocks to engaging with customers.  Lowe’s has partnered with Fellows Robots to do much the same.[3] These robots scan shelves in stores, automating associate tasks by counting facings and using RFID and camera technology to determine which products need to be restocked.  Preplanned product maps can paint a store picture that allows the robots to map store sections based on product velocity.
  • Associate Enablement. Several companies like JDA Software, Manhattan Associates, SAP, Salesforce, Reflexis, MadMobile, Tulip and others are focusing on associate enablement.  Solutions emphasized differentiating the in-store experience for customers through improved real-time product availability, mobile access to product information, task management, clienteling, and assisted selling.
  • RFID Product Tracking. Impinj’s RAIN RFID product tracking solution shows changing inventory count on a screen in real time as a customer picks up and moves a product from one point to another within the store (such as receiving to staging or when customers complete a purchase and leave the store).  Retail associates can use this technology to track products, manage inventory, and prevent shrink and theft and spend more time with the customer.
  • Assisted Selling Displays. June20 introduced customization and bespoke configuration technology as part of the NRF Innovation Lab display.  The tool guides customers in the store to configure a product (such as a car) using a set of stations and dynamic tablet-format display to select color, fabric, texture (such as flat leather or wood grain) and more.

What’s Next

Stay tuned for the upcoming Processes chapter report of the Digital Store Playbook – coming soon.

[1] See Forrester report, Design Your Digital Store Blueprint for Customer Impact.

[2] See Forrester Report, The State of the Digital Store.