This year marks my second National Retail Federation (NRF) convention. Every January, the world’s major retailers convene at the Javitz Center in New York to either celebrate or lament the holiday season just passed. It’s clear what the sentiment is this year with another large wave of store closures underway and a major “shot across the bow” from the industry disruptor, Amazon. That would be “Amazon Go,” which appears to eliminate two major issues of the storefront experience – cost of labor and inventory shrinkage. This brings home the point that today’s retailer – if they could throw out legacy systems and start fresh – would take a very different approach toward every facet of their operations.
The same technology stalwarts anchor this convention year after year. Tech giants like Intel, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, IBM, Samsung, and Cisco bring their store-sized exhibits along with armies of salespeople. From my impression as an NRF newbie, these companies are providing expensive ways for retailers to adapt to their customers’ changing demographics and shopping preferences. In a perfect world, legacy systems would be scrapped and replaced, but in the real world, legacy systems have layers added to them to bridge the gap from old to new. Then along comes a new, fully-automated store model from Amazon that might make WalMart products look expensive. Wow!
The exciting thing I see at this year’s NRF Convention is the integration of exciting new innovations into the exhibits of the anchor exhibitors. In my 30-year history of attending various industry conventions, there’s usually a very noticeable hierarchy on the show floor: the industry giants dominate the space, the up-and-comers fill in and posture themselves as future anchors, and the start-ups have a mass of tiny tables in the back of the basement. While that’s still generally the case at NRF, many start-ups have partnered with one or more tech giants, and are leveraging their exhibit space and the armies of sales and marketing people to gain much more visibility. Here are some examples:
+ RevTech Ventures alum, Dor Technologies, has a very visible presence in the Star Micronics booth. Their bright red “Dor-way” is the entrance to the exhibit!
+ RevTech Ventures mentor Chris Todd, CEO of Theatro, has a strong presence both in the JDA and Intel booths, in addition to having his own booth on the lower level.
+ RevTech Ventures friend Michael Garel, CEO of EyeQ, has a high-profile video wall demonstrating one of his products at the entrance of the Samsung booth.
+ RevTech Ventures alum, FindMine, has an entire section of the Intel booth for demonstration of their online order augmentation platform.
+ Last year, RevTech Ventures alum, PnP Loyalty, had a strong presence in the Epson booth.
These are just a few examples of what I see as a very encouraging trend. Most of the companies RevTech Ventures invests in and mentors are referred to by the big guys as “point solutions” – products developed to solve specific problems in a retail operation. The natural pathway is for point solutions to be acquired and become integrated into product suites that provide more comprehensive solutions for their customers. With a new generation of product suites to arm today’s retailers, perhaps new store models can be created that leap-frog all those legacy issues around omni-channel optimization, automation, supply chain visibility, and customer service. The race to the new store model continues!
Michael Brand, CEO of Dôr
Michelle Bacharach, CEO of FINDMINE