Futures tech

NRF 2019: Review

As part of my role both at Head Office and at Think:Digital, I am tasked with looking at the wider technological landscape to see what other similar businesses are implementing, as well as identifying upcoming trends that could be good candidates to evaluate and experiment with. This year, myself and three other colleagues were lucky enough to be nominated to visit NRF 2019, the world’s largest Retail conference, on the banks of the Hudson River in New York.

Over 800 exhibitors were at the show from over 90 countries and an estimated 38,000 tickets were sold to the event. The show features a mixture of technologies but with a specific focus on Retail. As you’d expect, most of the established vendors were there – Microsoft, Accenture, Intel, SAP – but the real beauty is that these major players are met with disruptors and start-ups in equal measure.

Split over 4 levels, you can’t help but be amazed at the sheer scale of the show – this is America after all – and it takes a while to get your bearings. It’s impossible to get around every vendor in one day, there’s just too much to see. Personally, I had a wishlist of things to see:

  • what possible solutions are there for a new Intranet solution
  • how we can help improve legal and compliance checks in our retail stores
  • are VMWare looking at doing a similar partnership with Microsoft Azure as they have with AWS
  • is there a real use case for blockchain in retail that gives true value to the customer
  • AI and Machine Learning in enhancing and enriching customer experiences
  • marrying online and in-store to provide a seamless customer experience
  • what new, innovative technologies are being pitched by disruptors and start-ups

In addition to the vendor stalls, the amount of tech talks were also staggering. My colleagues and I strategically aligned calendars so everyone got some exposure to what we wanted to hear about. Most striking for me was listening to Jeremy King, the Executive Vice President and CTO of Walmart and the sheer scale of their business – each week they have over 260 million customers! – and how they’re constantly looking to change the Retail landscape in America with different store formats, range and of course, technology.

Floor 4 contained the Innovation Lab; a mixture of start-ups and other small companies looking at really disrupt Retail and its future. This Lab contained a real mix from intelligent digital shelf edges that can alert store staff when a shelf is empty, to earning Bitcoin when you shop. From robotic order picking in store to augmented reality being used in boutique fashion stores to ‘virtually’ try on clothes.

I met a fantastic mix of people, from those who I have existing relationships with, to uncovering some potential gems that I feel could really make a difference to our customers and colleagues. Some of these are already being evaluated in some depth, both in Lichfield and at the University and I’m already looking forward to telling you about the findings as and when I can.

It’s by far the best event I have attended and my other colleagues felt the same. I thoroughly recommend visiting the show if you ever get chance. Here’s looking forward to next year!

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