At last week’s NRFtech event in California, the idea that it takes so much more to keep up with the accelerating pace of change was a common theme. The other side of that is how important it is to also keep an eye on what’s coming. So it was with an optimistic eye on what’s possible that four innovators took the stage at the event to talk about a few things they believe are shaping the future of retail.


Coldlight Solutions’ Rob Patterson told retailers that analyzing historical data can only take you so far. Patterson said that bringing together artificial intelligence and data makes it easy to understand market trends, keep inventory stocked and even target individuals with offers that will appeal to them. Perhaps most powerful is how these technologies give decision-makers key information.

“This makes things available to more people, to run prediction models and simulations without a line of code. You can put it in the hands of people who make decisions,” Patterson said.


With computer vision, retailers do things like count crowds, analyze traffic patterns and time in store to adjust merchandising layouts and staffing needs. Prism Skylabs‘ Steve Russellshowed how computational imaging takes those insights to another level. With high resolution, enhanced images, managers can monitor not just stores, but individual fixtures to inform visual merchandising decisions. And especially important, the technology can completely remove people from video images to comply with privacy laws. With slick data visualization capabilities like heat maps, a lot of complex data can be put in the hands of store managers in a simple, actionable way.


Some retailers have experimented with beacons (tiny wireless devices that broadcast radio signals to smartphones) to send customers messages or targeted offers directly to customers’ smartphones when they’re nearby. But Dave MatthewsNewAer founder and CEO, describes his technology as planting “cookies for the real world,” enabling phones to pick up not just beacons, but any radio signal (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, etc.) and submit an action based on that location. This can take the form of store kiosks that present personalized offers as customers walk by or your phone suggesting you meet a friend for ice cream in a nearby shop because you both happen to be in the neighborhood.


Lots of retailers have loyalty programs, but gathering customer data in one central place to understand customers is still a challenge. 500Friends’ Arif Damji described the power of aggregating all customer data, from points of sale, e-commerce platforms, mobile platforms, CRM and social networks to offer more personalized experiences for customers at the right time, on the right channel and with the right message.

“More retailers are seeing the value of connected data, so soon it’s going to be an expectation – not differentiator,” Damji said.

The presentation of these technologies instigated a lively discussion among the attendees about retail priorities and protecting customer privacy, among other issues, but these are no doubt four things that retail technology leaders will be keeping their eye on.

by Jennifer Overstree

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