Bar code scanners that gather intelligence, smart shipping labels, and RFID (radio frequency identification) tags in your pants are but a few of the things to watch for in 2003. I got a look at these and several other point-specific technologies at the NRF (National Retail Federation) Show in New York in January. Indeed, several of the vendors at this year's Big Show were touting store operations products. A few years ago, most retailers were focusing on infrastructure and network improvements. Currently, POS and back end retail system upgrades have been dominating the time and resources of retail IT staffs. Looking forward, with platforms and networks for the most part in place, retailers are in the market for point-specific products that solve efficiency and operations problems.
Smart Bar Code Scanners?
PSC (Portland, OR), traditionally known as a retail supply chain-centric vendor, is making a push to change the way retailers think about bar code scanners at the register. It's marketing a utility that uses the features of its Magellan line to actually gather performance data at the POS - data that generates reports on scanning efficiency and customer processing - to improve the checkout operation. The goal is to improve speed and customer service by analyzing customer and clerk actions at the POS. All this from a bar code scanner. Who would have thought?
The Future Of Fulfillment
Catalog and Internet retailers will be looking to improve fulfillment systems with tricks like the Delsa delivery and shopping assistant from Kinek Technologies (St. John, New Brunswick). Delsa is driving change in the direct-to-consumer delivery process by allowing consumers to predesignate alternate delivery locations seamlessly in the online checkout process. On the flip side of the logistics scene, SmartLabel from Newgistics (Austin, TX) takes the guesswork out of return management for retailers and consumers alike. A prepaid, bar-coded return label allows the package to simply be dropped in the mail by the consumer. On the receiving end, a quick scan of the bar code provides the entire order history. There's still a confidence issue in the direct-to-consumer channel, but products like these will help to tear down that barrier.
Retail Gets Ready For RFID
Look at what Texas Instruments RFiD (Plano, TX) is doing with customers like The Gap and Prada with RFID in the retail space. The Gap figured it was losing $20 million per year due to supply chain fraud. That kind of money will buy a lot of RFID tags and transponders, and leave plenty of "found" money, to boot. The costs are relative to your product, but they seem to make sense for The Gap's jeans.
Operation efficiencies, that's the name of the retail game in 2003 - if you already have your infrastructure and POS systems figured out, that is. If you don't have your POS systems and infrastructure figured out yet, then I certainly hope you spent some time shopping at the NRF show.