The annual NRF Big Show starts this Sunday, and I’m excited.
In one immersive and busy three-day stretch, the Big Show reveals everything that is happening right now in retail technology, as well as what is coming next.
Here are three major trends I’m particularly interested to discover more about during my January sojourn to the Javits Center in New York.
Mobile has become the de facto customer interface for retailers. Even in store, retailers are using mobile apps to communicate with customers and accept payment.
In 2019, mobile is poised to become the de facto back end interface for retailers, as well. I will be interested to see how mobile technology vendors are enabling retailers to use apps to streamline non-customer-facing activities like inventory management, shipping and receiving, and payroll/benefits management.
Especially now that the prevalence of smartphones among consumers and employees enables retailers to reduce the cost of mobile solution deployment with bring your own device (BYOD) strategies, I expect to see new and innovative examples of mobile retail on display.
More human than human
The capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) continue to grow, creating new opportunities for retailers to optimize and automate processes across the enterprise. AI powers everything from customer service chatbots to merchandise optimization solutions to delivery management tools.
However, as AI becomes more “human” in its ability to analyze information, detect patterns, self-learn and reach conclusions, retailers will rely on it to perform higher-level decision-making. I anticipate a new generation of AI-based retail solutions that enable practices such as unifying store and online demand planning, modifying product assortment based on analysis of chatbot interactions, and automatically adjusting delivery routes based on real-time weather and traffic patterns.
Even better than the real thing
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are rapidly evolving from the stuff of science fiction to an established part of everyday life. This includes an increasing deployment of VR- and AR-based solutions in retail.
As with mobile, VR and AR have to this point been more frequently used for customer-facing activities. By digitally creating or enhancing reality, retailers can offer endless aisle inventory assortment, virtually display product information and videos, enable customers to visualize how products fit in their home space, and provide other features that create a richer, more personalized physical shopping environment.
And as with mobile, VR and AR also have a wide range of back-end applications I hope to see in vendor booths. These include guided picking, realistic virtual product displays and planograms, and employee training simulations.