TechBytes: Five Hot Tech Trends from NRF 2015

The National Retail Federation “Big Show” is always a good barometer of what trends will influence the retail technology landscape for the coming year, and the just-completed 2015 edition was no exception. Based on the buzz on the show floor and at keynotes and sessions, 2015 should be an eventful and possibly transformative year in retail IT.

Here are five technology trends that really stood out.

Inventory Gets Smart
On the surface distributed order management, or the ability to seamlessly accept and fulfill orders across all channels of customer engagement, appeared to be the leading technology trend of NRF 2015. However, the real underlying trend is the ability to intelligently locate and distribute inventory from anywhere to anywhere in the enterprise, in near or real time.

Beyond letting retailers execute tasks like shipping online orders from local stores, intelligent inventory also lets retailers do things like locate a clearance item in one part of the enterprise and fulfill a full-price order with it in another part of the enterprise.

RFID Enters the Wonder Years
Intelligent inventory itself does not happen in a vacuum. Currently, the only way for retailers to obtain the near- or real-time visibility into their enterprise inventory to allow intelligent fulfillment and distribution is to use RFID technology. Retailers are also discovering that RFID is a great tool for providing CRM features like automatic payment and delivering personalized in-store recommendations. Of course, RFID is still a valuable tool for its traditional uses in supply chain tracking and loss prevention.

One vendor compared the current state of RFID maturity as adolescence, where it now has a clear purpose and mission but still faces some awkward development stages. The next few years of RFID development should be full of wonder, indeed.

Security – Duh!
2015 is the year retailers realize that securing their networks, payment systems and databases is an absolute necessity.  The rapidly approaching October 2015 mandate for U.S. retailers to comply with EMV regulations for accepting secure, chip-based card payments is prompting a lot of activity in the POS and front-end security space. Smart retailers know that EMV is the first step, not the goal line.

Retailer should also expect lots of heated debate about whether the chip and signature secure payment method favored by U.S. financial institutions is an acceptable alternative to the chip and PIN method favored by most of the rest of the world.

Do Something with all that Data
Retailers have been collecting and segmenting volumes of “Big Data” for several years. 2015 appears to be the year they finally do something with it. Sophisticated analytical tools and processes are making it possible for retailers to apply Big Data to make assortments, marketing campaigns, discount offers, recommendations and entire shopping experiences more personalized and tailored than ever before. Doing something with Big Data is not necessarily easy or cheap, but how many worthwhile efforts really are?

Mobile – Yawn!
Don’t get me wrong – mobile is rapidly becoming the most important customer engagement channel of all. Mobile innovation is developing at a rapid pace and forward-thinking retailers and systems developers are taking a “mobile first” development approach.

That said, mobile commerce in 2015 is where e-commerce was in about 2002. Hugely important and a focus of innovation, but no longer shiny and new. Mobile has become understood to be the dominant CRM and transactional tool of the future, including for in-store activities. This also forces mobile technology vendors to provide real value instead of relying on buzz to sell mobile solutions, to the benefit of everyone.

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