The major retail event in New York is over. So what are the latest technological discoveries and innovations in retail? We found out from Jean-Guillaume Roger, Retail Market Manager for Econocom.

What were the key customer experience trends at NRF this year?

Customer data was a key theme at NRF 2018. For years the e-commerce experience has led to frustration for in-store customers (check-out, queues, product availability, etc.). The pure play strategy is increasingly being replaced by a seamless, omnichannel experience between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores.

This channel convergence has created a new way of consuming. Brands are looking at how to use e-commerce tools and data to facilitate shopping in-store – and with good reason: in 2017 in the US, for every store that closed down, three new ones opened! Retail is not dead, but retailers need to provide more agile purchasing experiences and gain a better understanding of each customer’s expectations via a variety of ways of interacting with them. Some of the leading brick-and-mortar stores that have failed to innovate in this area are declining, whilst those that have managed to keep up with new retail trends are thriving. The impact of digital in this highly-competitive sector is significant, bringing in its wake a host of opportunities that brands come to find out about at the NRF Retail’s Big Show. And it isn’t just pure play retailers: for example, Amazon now has brick-and-mortar stores, and French hypermarket chain Auchan has teamed up with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, in order to reach a broader base of consumers.

Another major trend at NRF, which is an offshoot of this, is hyper-personalisation, which is a result of combining data collection and consolidation and store staff’s customer relation skills: because digital should above all be about humans! The sales staff can use the data collected and thus offer a highly personalised or “premium” customer relationship. Whatever the brand positioning, it has to anticipate and perfectly match the customer’s needs.

To make this happen, many retailers are using cross-channel platforms to ensure centralised CRM management, although many brands are still operating in silo mode.

There were a lot of robots at CES in Las Vegas. What about at NRF 2018?

Robots and chatbots were very present this year. Artificial intelligence with increasingly powerful algorithms are being used to develop the potential of robots, for example for managing stock-taking and reporting pricing or location errors to the floor manager, like the 50 Bossanova robots used by Walmart.

Artificial intelligence is also behind conversational marketing and chatbots. 80% of customer requests made via chatbots are resolved without human intervention. No one at NRF this year was questioning the use of AI:  chatbots, originally launched online, are now being used on apps and in-store. Walmart, for example, uses chatbots on touch-screens to help customers, and on robots to answer their queries.

What are the emerging innovations? 

In terms of emerging technologies, payment systems are constantly being updated and every year new ways of paying are developed. Brands are striving to offer a simpler payment experience, such as self-checkout, mobile payment via NFC or zero-click payment.

This year saw the development of image-recognition technologies in retail and advances in self-checkout machines. Not to be outdone, Amazon launched its first Amazon Go, offering a checkout-free purchasing experience (“Just Walk Out”).

Thanks to a complex network of sensors and cameras and formidable computing power, clients’ debit or credit cards are charged directly for the items they’ve chosen, without going to the checkout. Conversational marketing solutions such as Google Home and Amazon Echo were also much talked about at NRF.

These innovations clearly show the need for combining channels to attract and retain increasingly demanding customers. France is something of a trailblazer in this field, with the development of solutions such as Drive-to-store, Click & Collect and Store-to-web; a number of French software vendors were at NRF this year.  At Econocom, we help our retail clients implement comprehensive solutions to address these trends, be it in terms of mobile technologies, Big data, IoT or robotics.