By Matt Pillar, Editor In Chief, Retail Solutions Online/Integrated Solutions For Retailers magazine
After four days in New York for last week's NRF BIG Show, incremental is the best word I can find to describe the retail technology advances I saw there. The vendor community brought out all its best showmen and sales folk, and though many of them tried to convince us that 2009 was not so bad (a few even tried to fool us into believing they had a great year), the tech advances on display begged to differ. Two short years ago, Microsoft was drawing crowds who wanted to play with its seemingly-magical Surface, the perimeter of the floor was polluted with startups pushing dozens of flavors of m-commerce, and Oracle and SAP were engaged in multi-front battle for world retail dominance.
Last week, most vendors were pleased to share news of incremental improvements to their core offerings, strategic internal decisions, and new customer wins. There were no major M&A announcements, no sweeping platform changes, and few tech releases labeled "revolutionary" or "disruptive," two fatigued and usually false descriptors heard too often for too many years.
But what the show lacked in flashy tech it made up for in attendees — most notably those of the international variety — and they could not escape messaging on the three major themes of NRF '10: Mobility, Sustainability, and Social Media.
All The Right Players Go Mobile
The carriers and the device manufacturers have been pushing store-level mobile tech for nearly as long as store managers have been clamoring for it. This year, the software community hit its stride in developing applications that truly meet the needs of store managers and cross-channel consumers alike. Sterling Commerce, Radiant, Direct Source, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and many other vendors that I met with at the show were most excited about the prospect of mobile application growth in 2010.
Sustainability Underscores Everything
SAP named Peter Graf its chief sustainability officer, responsible for both ensuring SAP solutions are developed and marketed in sustainable fashion and helping to develop solutions that help SAP customers get and remain sustainable.
Big news out of Epson were the results of side-by-side testing that showed two if its leading POS printers use anywhere from 39% to 84% fewer kilowatt hours than nine same-class competitive models.
I participated in a Big Ideas session with energy management company Novar and REI, where REI Director of Store Development Dean Iwata said Novar helped his company save nearly half a million dollars in energy costs last year.
Most of the conversations I had with industry execs touched on sustainability on some level. The context was more often marked by bottom-line savings than earth-saving altruism. Solutions from companies like Novar and Site Controls enable retailers to speak confidently in either context.
The Giants Take On Social Media
SAP and Oracle are each bullish about social media. Both companies are pushing their own versions of social media barometers, designed to help retailers monitor social realms, gauge consumer sentiment, and make informed decisions based on the intelligence they gather. We discussed SAP's approach in a Q4 '09 webinar, look for more on the Oracle approach soon. Twitter and Facebook are on everyone's agenda, and with these two powerhouses on the scene it's clear that we're just tapping into the value of social media.
Marty Sos, consummate sales professional with Light Blue Optics, demonstrated the most magical technology I saw last week. Fresh from CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) in Vegas the week prior, Sos showed me how his company has taken the capability of Surface, the touch technology from Microsoft, and translated it through a pocket-sized projector. Instead of a touch screen, the user interacts with waves of light projected onto any surface. Check it out at lightblueoptics.com.
Keep an eye out for our comprehensive post-show wrap up later this month. If you were at the show, e-mail me and let me know what you thought.