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Beyond Fashion Statements - Part One

Observations at the National Retail Federation (NRF) 100th Annual Convention and Expo.

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Mobile and Social is the theme for this year. No surprise there. But seeing the application of these technologies in retail, all in one place, was astounding. It seems that there was a lot more to see, and the level of optimism matched the crowds.

Although there were plenty of sessions on best practices, the heart of the January show was about technology. And the highlight of the show was this Tyco tag Dress; but disappointingly, they did not have it in my size!

But let’s delve into important themes:


Apps of all kinds were there, with specific interest in Trade Promotions, Coupons, Loyalty programs, and leveraging social networks (will come back to that theme). A big mobile crowd from apps to device providers was in full force with strong support from the carriers, most notably Verizon and AT&T.

4G (fourth-generation wireless) mania was a big message from Verizon, in keeping with their iPhone announcements and another partnership of note, Cisco. 4G has huge implications for the business models of the carriers. I see the opportunity for them the same way I saw the opportunity for Microsoft when it started thinking about what the users actually did on their PCs—the data, the applications etc. Once launched into the enterprise world of applications, they have become a huge force beyond Windows. For carriers it could be even larger. But they might be timid to cross the boundaries too soon.

4G will roll out across the US in 2011, requiring those who desire this supercharge to upgrade a lot of their devices. But it will all be worth it, right?

Managing these devices . . . is no child’s play. Keeping applications up to date, devices independent and secure, is critical in order to gain and retain value.

Interesting companies to watch are AirWatch, Wavelink and Global Bay.

We have followed Wavelink a long time, and they are embedded in an extraordinary universe, provisioning mobile devices in diverse industries. Securing devices is really critical, and concerns about security should make CIOs think more about this issue, not just leave it up to the device companies.

Also, the software has to run on all platforms, a specialty of AirWatch. They have really thought through not only the business, but also the consumer world of mobile and pad. Pad is a huge market mania issue, and application providers are business porting here. These devices are mobile and have all the same issues as smaller mobile devices, so the management of them, again, should be a concern for apps players, CTOs and CIOs.

Global Bay takes this to a new dimension—self check out on iPhones and Droids. They’re not alone in this game, but certainly they have a jump on the competition, with many large retailers as companies.


Bullish again on RFID, as retailers start rolling out a larger footprint. With productivity as the driver, as seen in the NRF show by the big guys like Motorola, store operations and inventory management are driving sales.

Firms like Tyco and Check Point have big retail footprints to exploit. How they do that will be very interesting to consider, and we are seeing this begin in earnest (stay tuned for next week’s articles on RFID in Retail).

Over on the other side of the floor in the ‘mobile pavilion’ was what the consumer can do with RFID. I can’t wait for the cool factor to kick in, and it appears that the young will be providing this. After talking to Motorola, which is now two companies (Motorola Mobility and Motorola Solutions), the RFID team is content to ride the wave and adapt as customers demand more features. Corporate ready vs. consumer devices are a different world, I learned. Mobile cool is a consumer phenomena; operations a corporate.

Sounds like some CIOs need to take a closer look at this issue, since today these are different devices and wireless platforms.

Social Networks

Google was in full force at the NRF. Retailers may see Google as a great site to project their presence and use their analytics, but enterprises are interoperable, as far as the SNs go. Customers tweet—happy, sad or madlike and share. They have sites proclaiming themselves as the center of expertise on YouTube, Facebook and many more. So being socially connected is the way to go. Don’t inhibit the opportunity for a customer to reach out to your company.

Digital Signature Returns!

Another area that we have talked about for years, but that is now coming on strong, is digital signature for both the store operation as well as the customer experience. Why? It’s all about lowering the challenges in adoption and the ease of implementation. Although large scale digital signature management can be an installation headache, it now comes in all sizes. But more importantly, it is connection ready via wireless.

With so many apps, not just security or static menu lists for restaurants, which have limited value, retailers can have diversity and flexibility on display, at any time of the day!

Here you can see Ann at the Panasonic booth, not the person in question, though!

Conclusions: Early Days

Technology has surely evolved! Although this was before my time, many of our readers remember these from when we were kids.

Talking movies was a fad; “nobody would want a computer in their home” and other death knell statements by forgotten CEOs may have been voiced in 2010 about mobile fads, social networks, too. But it’s not too late to revise your strategy. This is just the beginning. Although technology evolves, specific players come and go, the fascination and adoption continues.

We are social and mobile, we humans. We like. We share. We link. We shop. We play. We compete. Any enterprise that denies these basic instincts will surely not be a player by the end of this decade.

What’s It All About . . . Customer/Shopper Insights

We met many retailers as well as solution providers who are in this game and talked about these issues. Shopper insights will be a continuing topic. As we have discussed, mobility and consumers provide the opportunity for consumer engagement, but you have to scale it. We will share some of the retailers’ early experiences here in the coming weeks.

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.



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