January 18, 2018
Retailers are a tough bunch. Every year, just after the make-or-break holiday season is concluded, they head off to the Javits Convention Center in frigid New York to renew technology partnerships and to learn about the latest technology trends affecting their industry.
When I began attending the National Retail Federation’s annual convention (NRF) a few years back, the big tech titans owned the show (they still do) and the innovators were hidden away in the obscured recesses of the lower level. That has changed, as a firm called Tusk Ventures was contracted by the NRF to build a special exhibition on the uppermost level – the Innovation Lab. This exhibition was a must-see for attendees and brought great visibility to the early-stage companies selected to exhibit therein. Thankfully, three companies in which RevTech has invested – Dor Technologies, EverThread, and FindMine – were included in the Innovation Lab. Each was flooded with potential customers and strategic partners. Hats off to the NRF for realizing the need to better address innovation at this important convention.
The Innovation Lab was thoughtfully laid out to take the visitor through solutions sequenced with the shopping experience – awareness, consideration, engagement, service, and post-purchase. Some of the top innovation ideas I saw included solutions for self-checkout, new techniques for in-store engagement, new ways to minimize “showrooming,” and a heavy mix of AI, AR, VR, IoT, and robots!
Another encouraging development at NRF is that some of the tech titans have realized the benefit of imbedding new innovation into their exhibits. An example of this was the brilliant pairing of Arcade, a RevTech investment, within the exhibit of Theatro, a company led by RevTech mentor, Chris Todd. Arcade’s associate engagement platform was well paired with Theatro’s AI-powered virtual assistant and demonstrated that the future is still bright for human store associates!
Here are a few of the top themes I saw addressed at the show:
- Strong movement away from mobile apps and toward AI-powered chatbots that communicate through SMS messages.
- There were probably three augmented reality (AR) solutions presented for every virtual reality (VR) solution, supporting a premise I’ve held ever since the Pokemon Go phenomenon went viral.
- Lots of incremental (but not fundamental) progress in filling the gap between knowing the in-store customer and knowing the online customer. One of the key benefits of online shopping has been the store’s knowledge of the customer – who they are, where they’ve been, what they last purchased, etc.
- The cloud-based POS will gradually replace the in-store POS. Clearly, any new retail concept will have the physical stores as nodes of the online store. This is the only way that the on-line/off-line shopping experience can truly be harmonized.
- The term “omnichannel” is thankfully dead. So much for that vague, over-used word!
Here’s a theme I didn’t see addressed at the show:
- Clearly, no one has yet figured out the automated store. There was only one demonstrable concept that I saw – DeepMagic – and it was far from ready for prime time. Someone will figure this out, but so far not even Amazon has a working solution.
RevTech’s moment at NRF was a casual gathering at Clyde Frazier’s after the show wrapped up on Monday. Thanks to the efforts of Arcade’s marketing lead, Alison Zook, lots of friends of RevTech showed up including founders from Arcade, Birdzi, Dor Technology, EverThread, FindMine, plus several mentors. The joint was so packed that yours truly made friends with the bartender and became the server! [Note: Please don’t let Meagan get wind of this, or I’ll be the server at all of our future events!]