The National Retail Federation's 106th Annual Convention and Expo, held Jan. 15 to 17, 2017 at Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City, reflected the retail and payments industries' diverse community of global enterprises and start-up ventures. Approximately 33,000 attendees, 510 exhibitors and 300 speakers participated in the show, which included 70 educational sessions.
In a keynote address, Kip Tindell, NRF Chairman and co-founder and Chairman of The Container Store Group Inc., called retail an "exciting, dynamic and important industry in the U.S.," that employs one out of every four American workers. He acknowledged industry stakeholders reshaping retail's future and "visionaries from every conceivable field who are redefining the in-store experience."
NRF President and Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay observed the show had a "global feel" and praised the NRF Foundation's fundraising gala that raised $2.1 million. Proceeds will fund scholarships and the Retail Industry Skills & Education program (RISE Up), a retail industry credentialing initiative designed to help applicants of all educational and economic backgrounds acquire the necessary skills to enter the retail workforce and advance in retail careers, Shay stated.
Shay encouraged visitors to walk the NRF show floor, where numerous exhibits reflected solutions to retail's daily challenges, opportunities and disruptions. He noted the term disruption comes from Latin, meaning to break asunder or shatter to pieces. "Disruption doesn't always feel like a good thing, but we need it," he said. "When a technology disrupts a product, it makes it better, stronger and more efficient than before."
Disruption affects many industries and sectors, including sports, culture and the recent presidential election, which disrupted Washington in a big way, Shay added. "You might like what you see; you might hate what you see," he said. "But the reality is that disruption is here, and it's inescapable."
Intel Corp. CEO Brian Krzanich said the retail industry has arrived at a new juncture, where smart and connected technologies are transforming the way we shop and enjoy products. "In the last century, oil transformed the world," he said. "In this century, data is that transforming engine that is changing the very definition of a retail store."
Krzanich additionally noted that the industry's virtual cycle of growth will build on itself as devices become increasingly connected, from smart watches that monitor the body to smart POS systems and equipment. As these devices become connected, more data is unleashed, he said.
"Artificial intelligence and machine learning can now be applied and pushed down into these devices to predict what's next," Krzanich added. "Every industry will be transformed by this, and Intel will use this to deliver amazing experiences."
Krzanich further predicted emerging technologies will have three major impacts on retail: they will enable retailers to reinvent the in-store experience, identify new uses for analytics and create stores of the future. Retailers are already using virtual reality (VR) to create immersive retail experiences for consumers in stores and in their homes, he added.
VR technologies enable customers to control their experience while giving merchants more insights, Krzanich said, adding that consumers "could be sitting in your store and feeling like they're at home, or sitting at home and feeling like they're in your store, while you're getting all that data."
A new report, Building the Business Case for a Unified Commerce Platform – Optimize the Consumer Experience, co-authored by the NRF, Ecommerce Europe and Demandware Inc., surveyed 300 retail business owners and technology executives in the United States, Europe and Australia. Most respondents were involved in rebuilding their retail infrastructure, architecture, and applications in response to evolving consumer behavior, the report authors noted.
"Retailers are rethinking their technology approach to better serve connected consumers," the authors wrote. "Retailer expectations for the benefits of a unified commerce platform are high, including margin, revenue and brand value."
The theme of unified commerce was also reflected in NRF exhibits, presentations and breakout sessions. Henry Helgeson, CEO and co-founder of Cayan LLC, said unified commerce enables POS hardware vendors to sign up ecommerce merchants and enhance loyalty, analytics and co-branded service offerings. "Omnichannel was a powerful concept in 2016, especially the ability to offer a consistent consumer experience across multiple channels," he said. "Unified commerce expands on that theme, with enhanced capabilities and analytics that retailers love."
Nathan Casper, Director of Marketing at Shift4 Corp., said, "There is no place in [a retail] enterprise for a one-size-fits-all approach to technology and hardware. As merchant advocates, we will work with retailers to ensure their payment systems are secure and compliant." Shift4 is a payments industry gateway that prides itself on having created payment card tokenization.
"Our theme is 'payments solved; payments evolved,'" added Jeremy Fried, Systems Architect at Shift4. "Unified commerce is the next evolution of omnichannel, where data from multiple, disparate systems is aggregated into a single hub."
Reflecting upon the tremendous evolution of payments through the years, Coy Christensen, Vice President of Product Management at Vantiv Inc., said unified commerce is "the endpoint we've been pursuing for the past 15 years but didn't have the technology to support, until n
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