From The Editor | January 25, 2013

The NRF Big Show — Mobility Reigns Supreme Again

By Bob Johns, associate editor

Hopefully we have all had time to recover from the whirlwind that was the NRF Big Show, with the exception of our sore feet. Meetings, dinners, parties, speaking engagements, and user conferences made for an exciting week. This year promised to be bigger and better with the addition of the lower level, and it did not disappoint. One thing that did remain the same, however, is several overarching themes throughout the show — mobility and customer centricity.

Tablets of all sizes, with peripherals galore, were everywhere. IPhone and iPad add-ons for POS, scanning, or kiosk use permeated the show floor’s landscape. Android and proprietary platforms from companies like Motorola, Honeywell, and Panasonic were featured with live demos. The uses for all of the various devices on display are virtually unlimited. There were demos for WFM (workforce management) applications, mobile POS, inventory management, RFID scanning, barcode scanning, customer engagement, operations planning, and every front end and back end task you can think of. Nearly all of the focus for these mobile devices was on getting managers and associates onto the floor and interacting with customers by streamlining tasks.

This plays right into the customer centricity focus that we are seeing again this year. Last year we noticed that although customer centricity had always been talked about, it seemed retailers were finally beginning to use technology to follow through on the idea. This year’s Big Show featured many products geared toward aiding the customer on the floor at the time of decision. Mobile devices play a key role in accomplishing this task. Many of the retailers I spoke with on the show floor were focused on multifunction devices that integrate with all of the back end systems. Chief among their concerns were CRM integration to better understand the customer. Another concern was supply chain visibility. Retailers still want the ability to capture a sale on the floor, even if the specific item needed is out of stock in the store. Being able to pull the item from another store or warehouse, have it delivered to the store or customer directly, and be able to complete the transaction on the spot allows the associate to build the customer relationship by offering valuable assistance.

Staying with the customer, retailers were particularly interested in some of the new WFM solutions that incorporate analytics from cameras to better schedule labor according to traffic, not just sales. Being able to rate employees on specific tasks and create schedules to capitalize on those skills allows managers to have the right people on the floor at the right time to maximize the one-on-one customer interaction. With these solutions now being available on mobile devices, employees can access schedules at any time and make requests or  verify hours, making the employee a little more self-sufficient and reducing the time spent by managers on these tasks.

As we walked the floor throughout the several days of the show, I cannot even count how many retailers were trying out these devices, picking them up, and holding them as they would to show a customer product information, complete an mPOS transaction, scan a bar code, read an RFID tag, or create a schedule. Mobility is definitely not a fad, and unlike some technologies that take years for retailers to implement, it appears retailers are jumping in headfirst.