NRF is credited as retail’s big show, a global must-attend event that brings retailers, solution providers and manufacturers together annually in New York. It’s a huge time commitment for those who go from the UK but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to explore technology innovations and see – quite literally – all that is on offer to help retailers innovate and thrive.
Every year, a select few of the TPP Retail team make the trip and we were excited to hear about what they’d seen and experienced. There’s a lot to cover but after some time to digest the vastness of what they’d seen, we’re sharing our NRF 2024 technology highlights. Read on to learn what stood out, what fell short and our thoughts on what we saw…
As you made your way around the enormous exhibition hall, you were hit by just how many more electronic shelf-edge labelling solution manufacturers were in attendance this year. Delegates were presented with lots of choices and with each stand bustling, there was a clear appetite for ESEL in the retail industry.
ESEL isn’t new, in fact the early concept goes back to the 1990s, but it certainly feels like it’s having a moment. With growing choices and big names in retail rolling out ESEL in-store, the market price is being driven down and ESEL is fast becoming a viable option for more retailers.
As with all technologies, it evolves over time and here at TPP Retail we think that the tipping point has finally been reached where the benefit, cost and market conditions are prime for retailers to reap the rewards of ESEL.
With the minimum wages rising, retailers want to maximise their investment in store colleagues and introducing ESEL reduces the time they need to spend on in-store labelling tasks meaning expensive resources are freed up to focus on serving customers.
The growing range of ESELs available means they can now be sourced in all shapes and sizes giving choice and variety to customers. From basic shelf edge labels to full shelf edge displays with interactive features, retailers enjoy many secondary benefits in addition to simplified pricing changes. If ESEL isn’t yet on your list of technologies to explore, we recommend that you add it!
After significant investment, you want to maximise what you can do with a single device and this theme was evident at NRF across core manufacturers including Zebra Technologies, Honeywell and Elo. Each manufacturer heavily promoted their workstation offerings, demonstrating the ease and great benefits of replacing rigid and expensive back-office PCs with modern, space-saving and flexible workstations powered by mobile devices instead.
We’ve long championed the need for flexible technology solutions in retail and are advocates of the Workstation approach. More than the cost savings retailers get through the consolidation of technology (think less to buy, less to maintain and increased energy efficiency), we’re seeing the real impact workstations have on how store colleagues work.
From enabling store managers to spend more time where they’re needed on the shop floor, to being able to provide a better customer experience, Workstations allow colleagues to dock the device and complete additional tasks wherever a workstation is positioned.
Visual aids and display screens are everywhere in retail right now, there to drive customer engagement and advertising revenue but this sure was one cool solution at NRF. And when we say ‘cool’, we mean quite literally freezing!
Cooler screens are a great technological innovation, bringing highly visual content to commercial fridge and freezer spaces. Some solutions use sensors to change the screen content based on customer proximity, and some even have internal cameras that can report on shelf gaps to support stock management.
We’ve been fans of digital displays in-store for quite some time, working with several customers on projects to support better presentation of their product benefits, promotions and messaging. Display screens are also prime real estate for brand advertising supporting additional revenue streams in a growingly digital store environment and these cooler screens extend that opportunity.
What we love about cooler screens, however, is just how attention-grabbing they can be and when used well they are a fantastic education tool for customers.
In-store, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the wider business. Communication is the backbone of a job well done, from clearly defined tasks to simple and easy-to-follow processes. With newer tech on the market, retailers can finally move away from traditional voice communication infrastructures towards enterprise-grade solutions that better support engagement and collaborative working. From tools like Microsoft Teams to apps such as Workjam and even connected customer call buttons, there was plenty on offer at NRF.
The key theme running through all these communication tools? Direct connection. From the sharing of company news, store messages and announcements, to the management of training and development and even annual leave requests, better colleague relationships can be fostered all within a secure communication environment.
We’re seeing a lot of appetite for enabling better communication between store colleagues and the wider retail business and there’s much to gain – empowered employees, greater staff retention, higher productivity and streamlined processes. Supporting direct communication with individuals across the entire retail business, there are some great comms apps on the market which help colleagues stay up to date.
A long-standing technology which has gradually been adopted as the cost reduces, RFID is becoming more and more commonplace as retailers realise the inventory and stock control improvements it delivers. RFID stands were busy but we noticed a change in how the technology was framed this year, with greater emphasis on the benefit of RFID on customer experience, particularly in self-service applications.
RFID is here to stay and we’re working on several retail RFID projects right now. There are great benefits to be had with this technology and it’s well-established in the industry. The main challenge we see when it comes to RFID in retail is that it needs to be driven at the source manufacturer with pre-tagged products. This is a shift we’re seeing happen with more brands including Nike and H&M already doing this
Unsurprisingly given the volume of AI chatter that surrounds us all, AI was also everywhere at NRF and a subject of discussion by big players such as Microsoft and SAP, right through to small start-ups across the AI arena.
From forward forecasting stock to considering trends, the weather, and even the economy, to preventing shoplifting by monitoring customer behaviours and detecting body language, there are certainly some interesting ideas being explored in the AI landscape.
Less of a buzz and more of a fizzle for us… there were a lot of solutions on show presented as AI but when you dug a little deeper, we found much of it to be data manipulation rather than the true use of AI. We found it hard to differentiate between the many AI businesses to identify real value in their offerings and it’s difficult at this stage to see how to apply AI with impact but, like many others, we will be closely watching how this space develops.
Theft in retail is on the rise, thought to be a result of cost-of-living pressures squeezing household incomes and so few convictions. Costing UK retailers alone nearly £1bn a year, it’s no wonder that security was a big theme at NRF this year.
There was a wealth of anti-theft products on display, from the use of data and analytics to motion cameras and AI, and even Perspex boxes with a range of access options such as NFC and keypads being used to secure items susceptible to theft.
It was abundantly clear as we browsed stores around New York that greater anti-theft measures have been implemented in the city. Stores are locking away products prone to theft – and not just those with a high price tag as you might expect, we saw low-value items secured in stores such as Target and even local pharmacies.
You might wonder about the cost of such measures, but even for low-value items the cost of theft to the retailer soon adds up. If theft is an issue for you and a main cause of shrinkage, it’s worth weighing up the technology implementation cost vs. the stock preservation benefit.
There was a rise in vision technology at NRF this year with impressive 3D content solutions on display from Hypervsn, Standard Vision and Samsung. Highly engaging, these holographic systems are credited with boosting sales of promoted products, driving footfall in-store and significantly boosting customer displays.
Each year the clarity and quality of the display becomes greater to the point where you feel that you are interacting with another human being! There is no doubt that these highly visible and engaging displays capture the customers’ attention.
Vision technology such as Hypervsn is clearly impressive and high impact, but it’s understandably expensive too. It’s early days but at this stage, we see it being used for proof of concepts or in flagship stores due to cost but if you have a message to deliver or a product that you want to seriously promote, these solutions can provide you with a means to do it.
Smart shopping trolleys (or carts) have become a regular feature at NRF, and this year was no exception with more players entering the market. Fitted with cameras, weighing scales and barcode scanners, smart shopping trolleys can detect the items that you buy, and the onboard touchscreen displays pricing and product information as well as facilitates the payment process. There was a notable shift in focus to anti-theft benefits and ease for customers highlighted in messaging.
Another example of AI being promoted but the reality is the clever use of data, we still think there is something smart about these trolley solutions but sadly the cost outweighs the benefit right now vs. existing scan-and-go solutions.
If you couldn’t make it to NRF 2024, we hope our honest summary helps decide what technology solutions your retail business should explore next. We’re here to help, on hand to discuss the right technologies to reach your goals. To learn more about the innovations from NRF, contact our team of experts.
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