NRF Big Show 2024 - Jason Dixson Photography
NEW YORK — From customer-facing solutions to backend tools, convenience store retailers could not provide a seamless, efficient shopping experience to consumers without technology. It is that reliance on technology that makes the National Retail Federation's (NRF) annual conference and expo one of the largest and most anticipated events in the retail industry.
[Read more: How Tech Advances Can Lead to Fresh Success]
With a growing spotlight on foodservice, the show is increasingly becoming a must-attend expo for convenience channel leaders. From among the thousands of exhibitors and four days of education sessions at NRF 2024: Retail's Big Show, Convenience Store News highlights the top takeaways for channel executives to consider as they plan their tech agendas for the years to come.
1. AI Has Arrived
Artificial intelligence (AI) isn't a piece of the future; it's happening here and now. This year will see AI move from the theoretical stage to the application stage.
A large number of exhibitors showcased solutions based on incorporating AI technology, such as tools for inventory management, production planning and labor scheduling, and no doubt there are more to come. At Hughes, AI is built into its backend systems so that the technology solutions provider can spot the symptoms of any possible disruption and take proactive measures.
There is room for c-store retailers to grow in this area. As Patrick O'Mara, senior solution principal for RELEX, pointed out, most operators in the c-store space are not taking advantage of AI and are still taking a "blocking and tackling" approach to operations.
2. Removing the Pain Points
Rather than invent a brand-new retail solution, many backend offerings seek to ease existing challenges and make it simpler for retailers and their employees to do their jobs.
Speed bumps related to scheduling, food safety, team communication and more may often go unnoticed by the end consumer, but technology solutions addressing these challenges can have a big effect on operations. The more streamlined day-to-day tasks are, the more retailers can focus on taking their customer experience from good to great.
3. Autonomous Is In
Feeding a vending machine with quarters is increasingly a thing of the past. The NRF Show Foodservice Innovation Zone featured numerous approaches to offering food and beverages without onsite labor.
The Roboburger miniature robotic restaurant cooks up a custom-ordered hamburger in just four minutes, while Structural Concepts' Autonomous Retail Merchandiser combines a refrigerated display case with a smart solution and streamlined inventory management.
For larger footprints, initiatives like Sensei's autonomous convenience store uses sensors, AI and weight detection to provide a frictionless shopping experience with no cashiers required.
4. Advances in Age Verification
Autonomous retail isn't limited to nonalcoholic products. BoxxTech's autonomous vending unit offers ready-to-drink canned cocktails — a rising trend in the beverage space — paired with a software solution that authenticates government IDs and uses facial recognition to ensure underage consumers don't use fake or stolen IDs for purchase.
5. Loss Prevention Is Top of Mind
Shrink, theft or shoplifting — no matter what you call it and regardless of whether it's intentional or not — is an aged-old problem for retailers. With advancements in technology, retailers today can keep a better eye on what is going on inside their stores and on their forecourts with solutions such as surveillance for inside the store and license plate readers for outside the store.
The evolution of self-checkout is adding another wrinkle to the problem, leading some retailers in other channels to pull back from the service. However, it doesn't have to be that way. According to Diebold Nixdorf, retailers can utilize AI to track which items are scanned, which items aren't scanned and which items are scanned incorrectly at self-checkout.
[Read more: Retailers Take New Approaches to Fight a Growing Problem]
NRF 2024: Retail's Big Show took place Jan. 13-16 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York.