Big Ideas Coming out of the NRF Big Show 2014

By Hedgie Bartol, Business Development Manager Retail, Axis Communications

Synergy seemed to be the common thread at this year’s NRF Big Show. While the customer experience was definitely at the forefront, it was interesting to note how many vendors were demonstrating tools to help business units work in concert to drive sales, develop customer loyalty, improve service levels and even coordinate brick-and-mortar and online shopping.

Creating a seamless omni-channel shopping experience
Coming from a video perspective, I was happy to see that people were finally recognizing that in-store cameras could play a much broader role in retail operations beyond the boundaries of loss prevention. After all, when you have an intelligent eye looking over your store, why limit that brainpower to just one thing?

Throughout Big Show, vendors demonstrated how video can be leveraged to establish an in-store fingerprint similar to the digital fingerprint retailers capture through online shopping. Beyond monitoring general activity on the floor, they showed how video analytics can visually validate previously subjective data, such as dwell time at specific displays and the gender and general age of customers attracted to certain areas of the store. Retailers then use this information much like a digital fingerprint to lead customers toward a more satisfying and successful shopping experience through improved planograms, floor layouts and merchandising displays.

Facial recognition software is also being used to enhance the customer experience. Video not only shows how many shoppers come into the store, but also helps identify loyal shoppers and their interest in particular merchandise. Much like loyalty cards help retailers customize checkout coupons for individual shoppers based on previous and current purchases, video data helps retailers cross-sell, upsell and target marketing campaigns to specific customer segments based on an analysis of shopping patterns.

Repurposing a loss-prevention tool into an operations tool
Video-based solutions also cross over to other areas of retail operations to provide visual oversight into such activities as training, stock replenishment and even merchandise delivery. Vendors demonstrated how video applications impact the bottom line by identifying cashier errors, sweethearting, shelf restocking delays and even signage and store layout issues that didn’t comply with corporate standards. Video is also being used to hold vendors accountable for shortages in unattended deliveries.

This cross-functional aspect of video was really driven home in a conversation I had with a loss prevention professional about a heat mapping analytic. I figured his merchandising colleagues would be more interested in the feature than he would, but he told me my assumption was totally wrong. True, the heat map was valuable for merchandising, but if he looked at the map through his security eye, that cold area of the store was just as important to him as it was to them. It revealed a place where someone could go to conceal an item because there was less foot traffic. And it made him realize he could probably decrease store losses if he added another camera to those low traffic areas. Well, that was a “wow” moment for me. Adding a heat mapping analytic turned a loss-prevention tool into a cross-functional tool for merchandising and back again, serving both departments’ needs.

Shopping gets social
Another big idea that came out of Big Show was the growing demand to marry social media and shopping. A number of vendors presented tools to turn shopping into an interactive experience with one’s extended social network. Technologies ranged from virtual try-on mirrors to QR codes that allow shoppers to post merchandise information across their social media channels, creating a virtual shared shopping experience with friends and an opportunity to garner real-time feedback before finalizing their purchase decisions.

The retail sandbox is getting bigger
The real take-away for me from NRF’s Big Show was the realization that the retail sandbox is getting bigger. There’s more opportunity for the business units to play together and share their tools because they’re all working for the same common goal. By focusing on the cross-functionality of those tools, retailers get more value from their technology investments. And along the way, they gain more knowledge about every facet of their business. It’s a win-win for everyone.

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