NEW YORK — Retail insiders gathered in New York last week to learn best practices from one another and see what's coming up next in retail technology innovation.
While the attendees on hand at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail's Big Show & Expo spanned all retail channels, the convenience store industry executives spotted on the show floor told Convenience Store News that their priorities at this year's event were centered on data security, EMV certification and backoffice issues, particularly overcoming the challenge of connectivity and adaptability of new technologies with legacy platforms.
Data security, particularly in the wake of the recent revelation of a data breach that affected payment card information at potentially all Wawa locations from March to December 2019, is a hot-button issue that many believe will attract additional legislative attention.
At this year's Big Show, the National Retail Federation (NRF) announced the launch of a new Center for Consumer Privacy and Innovation, a retailer-led initiative intended to promote and protect innovation in the retail customer experience.
"Retailers recognize the importance of and value the trust placed in their hands by their customers," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "The Center for Consumer Privacy and Innovation will provide insight and policy expertise to educate lawmakers as they strive to properly balance consumer protections with retail innovation."
The center will produce research, track privacy legislation, and educate the public and policymakers about the benefits, convenience and value they derive from the technology that retailers develop. The effort aims to ensure that government regulation does not harm innovative aspects of the retail economy.
NRF 2020 Vision took place Jan. 11-14 at the Jacob K. Javits Center. Here is a look at several exhibitors who showed off technology targeted to c-store operations:
Arvin Jawa, vice president at Diebold Nixdorf, said the current technology focus for c-store retailers is on reducing the cost of doing business. "It's also about how do we improve the customer experience while making the shopper journey less frictional," he added. One of the ways to do this is to use technology to enable customers to be more self-sufficient.
"Convenience stores are a significant opportunity for us," Jawa told CSNews. "Retailing is changing, and c-stores are evolving even faster than the other channels. They have to develop solutions focused on core convenience."
Diebold Nixdorf showed off its newest self-checkout stations. Jawa pointed out that this modular solution is very adaptable to c-store retailers' needs because of its independent functionality and ability to integrate with existing systems.
"Retailers want a platform that is secure, service enabled, can run in the cloud and is adaptable," said Bill Miller, vice president of sales at GK Software.
Many c-store chains have outdated legacy systems or have multiple types of systems through mergers and acquisitions, which is why they are looking for one point-of-sale (POS) platform that can work with every concept, he pointed out.
Randy Evins, senior principal/industry advisor for food, drug and convenience at SAP, told CSNews that convenience retailers have three priorities in the technology area.
"No. 1, there's an acknowledgement that their customer is becoming digital and they want to know how to get into the digital game. They say e-commerce, but when we say digital, we mean more than just e-commerce," he said. "Gasoline dominates their sales revenue, so they need to look at ways to bring the store to the pumps."
The second priority is how to add high-quality food to their assortment and rely less on gasoline. And No. 3, according to Evins, is "how do I start to understand my shoppers, how they shop, how to engage with them, and how do I have a better relationship with my most loyal shoppers?"
He pointed out that SAP's research engine uses social data so that retailers can discover not just what their shoppers purchased, but also what they think about their purchase.
At the NRF Show, Dr. Samuel Mueller, CEO and co-founder of Scandit, demonstrated how the company's mobile computer vision solutions with augmented reality (AR) empower both customers and employees.
The company's mobile apps use product barcodes and AR overlays on smartphones that enable customers to "scan and go," view information like product comparisons, and search for and find products on a shelf instantly. In addition, employees can scan a shelf of products and view AR overlays for numerous operational tasks such as price verification, shelf management, and click and collect.
Scandit's technology is used by such retailers as Sephora, Louis Vuitton and 7-Eleven Inc.
"The [c-store] channel is absolutely a growth channel for us," said Mueller.
It's no secret that convenience is an important channel and it is changing rapidly as retailers from outside the channel attack c-store's hold on "convenience." To compete, the convenience channel has to "change it up," according to Matt Brewer, head of global product marketing at Symphony RetailAI. For example, convenience stores need to find the right mix in the cooler, and across the entire store.
"The channel overall is evolving because the customers are evolving," he said.
The industry is starting to understand the importance of artificial intelligence (AI) to make those decisions, noted Kevin Sterneckert, chief marketing officer at Symphony RetailAI. By using AI across the entire value solution set — from the supply chain to inside the store to marketing — c-store retailers can leverage technology to work smarter, not harder.
"AI is understanding the trends of what customers want tomorrow, today," Sterneckert explained, adding that as he sees it, the biggest threat to the convenience channel may just be click-and-collect platforms, like those at Amazon and grocery stores.
AI also can help tailor messages on the forecourt to drive customers from the pump to the store. "There is more you can do with technology at the pump," Brewer said.
Frictionless engagement was another buzzword heard all around the NRF Show. Toshiba provided a peek into its technologies that can enable a "frictionless store."
The company employs multi-layered shelf sensor technologies and computer vision with real-time true edge computing, powered by its microservices software platform. The "Frictionless Store" demonstrates how retailers can evolve toward the store of the future at their own pace, while solving immediate business challenges like item recognition at self-checkout to optimize throughput and prevent shrinkage.
With so much changing at retail, Zebra Technologies' customers are asking for solutions, according to Anees Haidri, global retail strategist. The company's customers want to:
- Optimize investments;
- Elevate the customer experience; and
- Build a smarter operation.
Zebra and its partners showcased several initiatives at the event, including: a traceability solution (from farm to retail); a hybrid POS that uses mobile devices to bring the checkout experience to where the customer is, and can connect to a stationary hub with traditional POS features; augmented reality for the warehouse process; and locker solutions for both click-and-collect pickups and item returns.
Zebra also used the show to debut SmartSight, an intelligent automation solution that's designed to improve front-of-store operations and enhance the shopper experience. SmartSight leverages computer vision, machine learning, workflow automation, and robotics technologies to capture shelf and store information, resulting in greater than 95 percent inventory availability, the company cited.