eCommerce – The NRF show is heavily weighted toward the big retailers. The eCommmerce products are now highly sophisticated tools for chain stores and the major retailers. For the small retailer with a web presence, I got the distinct feeling that the technology gap has widened such that the little guys don’t stand a chance. Of the eCommerce platforms, the buzz word is “omnichannel” and the entry level for most of the products shown is in the $50-100K range just to get started. Many of the vendors quoted $100 million in sales as the minimum suitable revenue for their products. What it means is that there is a whole set of systems designed for the upper tier retailers and the kinds of things they can do is astonishing. It is more than just simple analytics about shoppers. It is also the ability to compete head to head with Amazon on price. One vendor sells a pricing tool that can mimic what Amazon’s proprietary pricing software is doing as it competes with Wal-Mart.

Grocery store technology – a couple of vendors were showing smart checkout lanes where you load the products on the conveyor belt, then the items are advanced through a scanner. The scanner figures out the bar code on a box of Wheaties, but it also somehow figures out that one Granny Smith apple is different from a Red Delicious apple, weighing the items when it needs to. The goal seems to be about faster checkout speed rather than to replace the checkout person. Somebody will still have to bag the stuff and deal with the inevitable bar code on the pint of ice cream that didn’t read because there is too much frost on the container.

Shopper behavior tracking – Another interesting set of technologies involves tracking what people do within the store. Heat maps showing where the shoppers go in the store has been transitioned over to the association market to track where in an expo the people are going and to help better design the layout of the booths. But one software vendor’s product shown at the show today uses cell phones to set a cookie on the cell phone browser as a way of tracking whether the person has been in the store before without needing to know anything else about the person.

Personalization seems to be the key – making the shopping experience unique for the shopper. One app allows the shopper to select and schedule an appointment. This product works well for large banks where a person might want to preschedule a meeting at a bank branch with the shortest wait time, rather than visiting a branch and standing in line. It works for BestBuy as well as Citibank, I’m sure.

Finally, the most peculiar product was called LiFi. Entering the store, the shopper is given a tablet with shopping information. As the shopper moves in the store, the tablet uses the unique patterns of light to figure out where in the store the shopper is moving and throw up special ads or information. There were plenty of vendors selling smart shelves. Smart shelves present information or ads based on what item you pick up off the shelf or where in the store you are, but LiFi seems like a technology in search of a problem.

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