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Global Retail Trends: Live from New York


I had an opportunity to visit NRF 2018 in New York earlier last month. It is one of the very well organized retail events that I have seen. The selection of technology companies and retail enablers was overwhelming. This edit is a summary of my observations and generalization of the innovations in a simplistic form.

Looking at why these innovators do what they do brings few adjectives/themes to light.

The overriding theme across all innovations is an effort towards “Real-Time“,“Intelligent”, “Human-less or Automatic”. If you add this as a prefix to any element in retail, you can spot a solution in that direction. Alternatively, adding these prefixes one can innovate in any area of retail.

Tried to categorize the innovations in 5 groups

1. Real-time product tracking
2.Real-time consumer analytics
3. Real-time Personalization
4. Intelligent “shelves”, “carts”, “pickers”, “shelf checkers”, “mirror”, “trial room”, “stores”
5. Human-less / Less-human/ Automatic store, warehouse

Presenting select applications of these innovations,

1. Real-time Product Tracking

Do we know where a product is located in the store in reality? Do we know whether the product is out of stock in real time? Do we know if the price on the tag and the price on offer align real-time? Do we know whether the stock in the system and stock on hand really match in real-time?
The answer to many of these questions will be “No”. This does impact availability, revenue loss and also cost.
The technology that is driving this innovation is IoT through RFID and Radio Tags. With RFID tags touching 3 cents, this is getting mass adoption.

Some interesting innovations in this space…

2. Real-time Consumer Analytics

Identify emotion and the gender of consumers using image analysis. You may observe my conversation with the presenter.
3. Real-time Personalisation
Smart shelves wherein brands can target messaging based on the consumer who visits the shelf using image recognition

4. Intelligent Mirrors

An intelligent mirror which helps you to share your pictures /videos in social media and ask for suggestions from your friends. There are also intelligent trial rooms using RFID and mirror which helps analyse the dropouts/conversions of garments that went to the fitting room and provide product insights

5. Human-less/Automatic Store

This store, one can walk in, purchase and check out without any staff.

Another interesting innovation was conversational shopping integrating facebook messenger, Instagram accounts and shows relevant recommendations based on the social profile of the consumer. This creates a zero touch personalization real-time.

It is a clear dominance of computer vision and machine learning in many of the offline and online innovations.

Many of the innovations are plug and play and definitely worth a try if it is the hot spot for the business. It is also important to note, adopting these new technologies need some patience and tolerance to accuracies as the machine learns on an ongoing basis. The overall impact on business metrics is important to watch out for.


Article by Ganesh Subramanian

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