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Retail and Hospitality

NRF 2012 showcases retail innovation

Karen McCandless reports from NRF, highlighting the new technologies that are helping retailers to respond to market changes, drive greater process efficiencies, and provide customers with a personalised, seamless shopping experience

The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Big Show welcomed around 24,000 people to New York’s Jacob Javits Convention Center for the organisation’s 101st event. Against the backdrop of unusually cold weather, attendees learned what the hot topics in retail are at the moment and how the industry is evolving to deal with the change in consumer behaviour and continuing to adapt to uncertain economic conditions.

The event featured topics ranging from digital and mobile retailing to the evolution of the retail store to economic and consumer spending trends. It also placed a special emphasis on retail’s significant role in driving the economy, offering ways for attendees to get engaged in NRF’s Retail Means Jobs campaign to advance innovation and growth in the retail industry.

First up on stage to talk about what delegates could expect from the event was NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. In his opening address, Shay discussed how continued growth in the retail industry will result in additional jobs, greater innovation and increased consumer value. He also announced that, according to the National Retail Federation, this year retail industry sales will rise 3.4 per cent to US$2.53 trillion – slightly lower than the pace of 2011, in which sales grew 4.7 per cent.

“Over the last 18 months, retailers have been at the forefront of the economic recovery – creating jobs, encouraging consumer spending and investing in America,” he said. “Our 2012 forecast is a vote of confidence in the retail industry and our ability to succeed even in a challenging economy. Retailers have played a key role in driving growth, but to continue this momentum we need Washington to act on proposals that will spur job creation and unleash the power of the private sector.”

Our 2012 forecast is a vote of confidence in the retail industry and our ability to succeed even in a challenging economy

Matthew Shay, National Retail Federation
Former US president Bill Clinton delivered the keynote at the show, ‘Embracing our Common Humanity.’ Introduced by Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren, Clinton touched on how the global economic crisis has impacted the retail industry, and affected the average consumer’s confidence in the sector. The 42nd US president discussed how the retail industry would have to evolve if it truly hopes to recover fully from what has been a difficult few years.

Lundgren, who is also NRF’s chairman of the board, opened up the first Super Session of the event with the words: “In order to prosper, we must be heard.” Echoing the sentiments of both NRF’s Shay and Clinton, Lundgren talked about how everyone must be ambassadors of this industry and play their role in helping with its recovery, no matter what the level they work at. Microsoft participated in a number of Big Ideas sessions where Shish Shridhar, the company’s retail industry market development manager, talked about how to deliver great customer experiences using big data. Infosys and Retalix also discussed the trend of consumerisation and mobility in stores, with Brendan O’Meara, Microsoft’s managing director for worldwide retail, moderating the session.

On the Microsoft booth, the company was showcasing how, along with its partners, it is delivering the future of retail, today and delivering on this vision through innovation, retail operations, digital marketing, devices, and its Windows Embedded and Microsoft Dynamics solutions.

Dassault Systèmes was exhibiting on the Microsoft booth for the first time, in the innovation area. The product lifecycle management company was demonstrating how 3D environments can help retailers better imagine, validate, and deploy optimum shopping experiences with its 3DVIA Store offering.

Philippe Loeb, general manager of 3DVIA Shopper, was on hand to provide more details about the offering and how it will enhance the customer experience in the retail industry in the coming year. “Retailers are acknowledging the fact that a top-down approach is no longer valid,” said Loeb. “They are looking for more social platforms to connect people and synchronise them around new products. This is where Dassault Systèmes' 3D products come in to enable that collaboration and ultimately improve the experience for customers.”

Jérôme Bergeret, director of FashionLab at Dassualt Systèmes, talked to OnWindows about where the technology incubator dedicated to fashion designers and stylists is headed in the upcoming year. The company will look at developing applications for Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface, Windows Phone and soon to be launched Windows 8 tablets. One of the objectives of this new focus is to provide a better experience both in terms of e-commerce and m-commerce.

In line with improving the customer experience, Microsoft announced Dynamics AX 2012 for Retail. The latest version of Microsoft’s enterprise resources planning solution features true multi-channel capabilities that enable the consistent experience across channels that consumers are looking for. It also helps to increase in-store productivity while delivering that personal features that allow retailers to better target and market to their customers.

Another key enabler of Microsoft’s retail strategy is intelligent systems. These focus on transforming retailers’ one-off applications, devices and databases into an end-to-end solution. Part of what makes these intelligent systems possible is a new generation of barcode scanners, point of sale systems, kiosks and other devices that are powered by Windows Embedded and the new Kinect for Windows, which was the focus of some attention earlier in the year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. People have become more accustomed to a user experience that incorporates touch, voice and gesture recognition.

With its support for Windows Embedded Standard and Windows Embedded Enterprise, Kinect for Windows opens the door for a variety of new data collection and consumption scenarios that introduce these capabilities. For example, a demonstration with Razorfish combines an NEC digital sign with Kinect for Windows to engage customers before they even enter the store. Inside, customers encounter the same combination of technologies in a virtual dressing room experience that allows them to view, navigate and see how garments look on a lifelike avatar version of themselves, without having to switch outfits or sort through sizes.

The Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface is also part of the mix in this demo, as well as another demo for NRF that Microsoft created with IdentityMine. In both cases, customers can immerse themselves in a 40-inch touchscreen environment to find more information on the products that interest them. The Samsung SUR40 also becomes a useful tool for sales associates to upsell or cross-sell by providing visual, on-the-spot comparisons between products.

The critical component in all of these scenarios is being able to generate, track and harness a variety of data streams. For example, the aforementioned NEC digital signs feature a corresponding Microsoft Tag for each individual retail item on display.

Whenever a customer captures that tag with a Windows Phone 7 or other smartphone, it generates a piece of data that helps retailers track what products are attracting the most attention and monitor the preferences of customers that are enrolled in their customer loyalty programme through applications such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Once data is captured by a device, it can be consumed and analysed by a variety of Microsoft applications and third-party services that live within a company’s channels, data centres or on a public cloud. These include Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 for Retail, Microsoft SQL Server 2012 and PowerPivot for Excel 2010. Ultimately, intelligent systems will benefit everyone along the spectrum, giving retailers the relevant and timely information they need and offering customers the services they deserve.

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