The Future of Retail: 5 Key Takeaways from NRF 2019

NRF 2019

With an estimated daily attendance of 38,000 retail professionals and two decades of shows, the National Retail Federation’s annual BIG Show knew exactly how to pack in the New York City’s Javitz Center to highlight the future of retail.

This weekend, thousands of companies converged at NRF 2019, admiring state of the art booths, forward-thinking technology, and solutions designed to help reach consumers in more ingenious and strategic ways.

While Carlton Technologies has set up booths of our own in previous years, this year we decided to walk the floor and visit with both device end users and manufacturing partners.

There’s a reason NRF is called the BIG Show.

You could easily kill a few hours wandering the floor. If we weren’t meeting with customers, we were trying to soak up as much information we could in the two days we attended.

Here are some of the key takeaways from NRF 2019, or what we can expect from the future of retail:

NRF 2019 Data Logic

1.) Walmart is the third-largest IT spender worldwide, behind only Amazon and Alphabet.

Growing his IT team by nearly 2,000 employees, CTO Jeremy King justifies the costs by directly addressing customer pain points. Returns for items sold through its online third-party marketplace are now integrated with physical stores. Inventory reorders are managed by machine learning. Robots are unloading trucks. Is there anything he’s unsure on? “[Blockchain] is a great idea… but how do you scale it to 5,000 stores?” Best Buy also had some prime examples of using mobile technology to drive efficiencies in its workforce.

NRF 2019 Floor

2.) Customers don’t distinguish between online or in-store shopping. They decide where to shop based on a particular problem and how to solve it.

Rodney McMullen, CEO of The Kroger Co., had some remarkable insights into the general state of retail, as well as the $122.7 billion grocer’s moves to navigate in the midst of aggressive competitors. McMullen believes growth comes from two sources: redefining the grocery experience and seeking alternative profit streams. If online shopping continues to be dominated by Walmart and Amazon, one will also be Kroger. “Regarding customer experience, we’re in the second inning.

NRF 2019

3.) There’s no substitute for a great in-store experience, as Target fulfilled three out of four digital orders by its stores.

Target invested $7 billion in capital to reimagine its 1,800 stores as showrooms, service centers, and fulfillment hubs all in one. CEO Brian Cornell insists that despite new technologies such as AI or VR, there’s still no substitute for that real human connection. NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay agreed: “We used to be talking about ‘how do we make a store more digital? Now there’s talk going back the other way.”

NRF 2019 Entrance Skyline

4.) Augmented Reality still needs some work before it’s ready for widespread adoption.

Making digital shopping more like a store is easier said than done. As we walked the show floor, it was impossible to ignore the spectacle of a high level retail executive attempting to put virtual fruit into a digital shopping cart.  The video quality looked dated and the extremely responsive headset made the feed on the TV motion-sickness inducing. There’s still loads of room for improvement here.

NRF 2019 Spaceship

5.) There are more point of sale and inventory device manufacturers than ever before.

After 20 years in the AIDC business, it’s still eye-opening to come across nearly two dozen different mobile device manufacturers with massive booths. Particularly notable were BlueBird, Data Logic, Honeywell, and Zebra. The race to reinvent ruggedized devices and provide solutions that stand the test of time has never seemed stronger. The future of retail still very much depends on mobility hardware and reliable equipment for stockrooms, DCs, and on the floor.

NRF 2019 Bluebird

With NRF 2019 in the rear view mirror, we can’t help but reflect on how fast it went, especially with a full agenda and a massive showroom to explore. Carlton was thrilled to be in attendance and looks forward to seeing how the retail world continues a path of upward growth and rapid technology advancement.

Whether you work in retail or another industry altogether, we’d love to discuss what mobile devices are in play and if there is an opportunity for Carlton to be your one-stop repair partner.

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