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Three trends to watch for at NRF 2016

BY Dan Berthiaume

The NRF annual “Big Show” conference is always marked by a few key technology trends. While the event has been known to throw a few unexpected surprises at attendees, usually it confirms and advances the direction industry momentum has been traveling.

Here are three major themes that will likely be prominently featured and discussed at this year’s NRF conference, which runs January 17 – 20, at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City.

‘Omnichannel’ Comes of Age
The Big Show has been full of exhibits and sessions centered on “omnichannel” for several years now. However, 2016 marks the year omnichannel, and its fraternal twin “seamless,” truly come of age.

When omnichannel is discussed at NRF this year, it will not be bandied about as a vague buzzword referring to front-end digital experience. In the past 12 months, omnichannel has solidified into a firm concept that covers complete alignment of the entire enterprise to serve customers across all channels in all locations, in real time.

Thus the days of vendors promising solutions that manage all your omnichannel needs by ensuring consistent product imagery and pricing are over. Point solutions that perform tasks such as managing a central product image database are still part of the equation. But now you will also hear how these type of applications interface with your inventory and order management systems.

Clouds of Happiness
Just about everything is moving to the cloud. Cloud infrastructure, rather than on-premises physical hardware, is slowly becoming the new standard platform to support most retail applications.

While there are some concerns about security (especially for clouds that are remotely hosted or shared with other entities), up-front cost and reliability, cloud applications typically work about as reliably and robustly as on-premises solutions. In addition, up-front investment costs can usually be recouped fairly quickly by reduced overhead and flexible “pay as you go” pricing.

In addition, cloud scalability makes it a good backup against network problems caused by sudden spikes in demand. And when delivered on a hosted services basis, cloud applications can often be installed and launched in minutes. This greatly eases systems pilots and also allows departments to individually select and deploy cloud-based point solutions.

Mobile, Mobile, Mobile
If the three rules of real estate are location, location, location, the three rules of retail IT in 2016 are mobile, mobile, mobile. Expect virtually every solution on display at this year’s NRF conference to either come in mobile format, including mobile apps, or at least have a mobile-compatible version.

In addition to recognizing the primacy of mobile as a means consumer Internet access, this mobile-centric retail IT approach also extends to corporate users. Tablets are excellent tools to more fully empower field and warehouse staff, as well as store associates. Retailers also understand that during their off hours, corporate users are consumers for whom using their smartphones to accomplish everyday tasks is second nature.

Finally, watch for a growing number of vendors who realize that the mobile channel now includes other personal consumer devices, such as smartwatches, wearable fitness assistants and even virtual reality glasses and headsets.

Have a great conference. Next week I will offer thoughts on what I saw and heard while I was there.

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