Experts Describe At NRF Show How New Technology Is Spurring Retail Innovation

As with all big trade shows, the amount of information shared, thoughts provoked, speculations made, and forecasts created can abound. And this week’s National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York didn’t disappoint.
In a show that draws some 30,000 people, it’s not difficult to be awed by the innovation and expertise in retailing in attendance there. And the ability to hear from experts who either are disrupting the status quo or who are working to help merchants achieve their ambitions also can be quite compelling.

Two such addresses during the show were especially informative, and insightful: IBM’s CEO Ginny Rometty, who stressed that the swirl around Big Data is under-hyped, not the other way around; and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who dubbed receipts “communication channels” and “a product unto itself.”

In her discussion, Rometty remarked how three key technology trends are driving change: Big Data, The cloud, and Cognitive Computing.

Big Data

With regard to Big Data, she dubbed information our generation’s next natural resource. “With 2.5 billion gigabytes created each day and the quantity growing, there’s no getting away from it,” she said. “Information will be your basis of competitive advantage.”

The Cloud

The cloud, Rometty said, enables merchants to be more agile and efficient and share information more efficiently and effectively. But retailers also must be aware of the need to address privacy and security along with speed and agility. Connecting back- and front-office technology properly, and managing it effectively, also is critical to its proper use, she said.

Cognitive Computing

Unlike computers of the past, which simply counted, today’s computers can learn, Rometty said. Rometty also commented that Northface is using IBM’s Watson computer, which showed off its skills on the TV show jeopardy, to build better experiences online to enable consumers to shop as they would in person, thus helping retailers build relationships with customers more effectively.

Receipts Gain Attention

In his speech, Dorsey noted that while receipts are thrown away by the millions each day, they also helped inspire him to form Square, which created a whole new market for payment card acceptance: the micromerchant.

With Square, shoppers provide the payee with their phone number or email address, thus enabling the store to forego the paper and send the receipt electronically via test message or email. In doing so, the merchant now has valuable information with which to interact in the future with its customers.

“What can we build into this canvas that’s actually valuable, that’s independent of the product you just sold?” he reportedly asked. “That’s what great technology allows. … It allows for experience. It allows for the mechanical aspects of what we do every day to completely disappear.”

Square would like to see a future where consumers walk into a store and have their phones recognized via a geolocation signal. The retailer then would use the information it has stored on the shopper to recognize him automatically, this providing him a means to pay without having to pull out their wallet.

Such use of similar technology likely will increase this year, fueled not just by Square but by PayPal’s Beacon and Apple’s iBeacon technology. Click here to listen to Dorsey’s full presentation.


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