NRF 2016 Recap
By:  David Matthews

Last weekend, I attended the National Retail Federation (NRF) convention for the first time. With the 2015 holiday shopping season complete, retailers kick off the new year with a trip to the Javits Center in New York to see the latest in retail technology.

For the past two years, the industry buzzword has been “omnichannel solutions.” As there was scarce mention of this term at the show, the issue must now be solved (just kidding). This year’s buzzword – from the smallest booth to the largest – was “big data solutions.” Every supplier, it seemed, had a solution for helping the retailer understand the in-store shopper as well as they understand the online shopper.

One problem with the implementation of big data solutions is that many require integration with legacy POS systems. Just as cloud computing solutions have disrupted traditional enterprise IT networks, big data solutions are disrupting traditional POS systems. RevTech Ventures alum, PnP Loyalty, has solved for this by partnering with Epson to splice into the data feed to the printer, avoiding the need to integrate with the POS system. The PnP team gained instant credibility by having their booth within Epson’s booth at NRF.
Photo:  Evan Brody (Pictured Right), Founder & CEO, PnP Loyalty

IMG_1786Another problem with the implementation of big data solutions is that many don’t aggregate into actionable data at the corporate level. For example, at a demo of a slick heat-mapping and beacon solution for measurement of store traffic, I asked how store-level data would aggregate to enable system-wide monitoring. No good answer was provided. RevTech Ventures mentors Jon Bolen and Greg Fasullo, of EnTouch Controls, have solved for this with their energy management as a service (EMaaS) solution for the retail industry. Store-level data for HVAC, lighting, and appliances is aggregated to a dashboard where energy policy can be set, monitored, and managed. EnTouch had a presence at NRF in the booth of its strategic partner, Interface Systems.

Here are a few of my key take-aways from the NRF show:

  • The attempt to “know” the in-store shopper as well as the online shopper is fraught with challenges and solution providers are over-thinking it. I like those solutions that empower the front-line store employees with actionable data.
    • Best example I saw was the company of RevTech Ventures mentor Chris Todd, Theatro, a communication solution that helps store employees know and better-serve customers.
  • Due to challenges presented by rising minimum wages around the country, I firmly believe that the age of the “on-demand” workforce is upon us. There are hundreds of startups racing to bring the “Uber” model to retail. One of them will win.
  • Though I’ve seen dozens of startups with applications to reduce checkout time at the register, the heavy hand of automation is going to win this battle. Self checkout machines were demonstrated by several companies that can quickly scan an entire basket of goods.
  • Of the big-company exhibitors, the Microsoft and Intel booths were packed and had great hands-on displays; the Infor, JDA, KWI, & VMware booths were nearly empty.