NRF 2015: The Year That Personalization Transforms Retail

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At the US National Retail Federation’s 2015 Big Show expo in New York this week, one of the big themes is personalization.

From customizing the online shopping experience to using beacons to engage customers’ needs and interests in-store, from smart shopping carts to smart changing rooms (such as eBay’s high tech stores with Rebecca Minkoff), better understanding shoppers’ needs is one of retailers’ biggest challenges—and one that tech-savvy brands are eager to help solve.

The result is a bigger push to track shoppers in-store in order to create more personalized service, and to track products in real time. [more]

While some people may feel uneasy at the notion of being tracked in-store (and may even dodge the greeter at the store door), technology is creating a new breed of personal shopper—a digital sherpa who will fetch and recommend items on demand.

As Microsoft notes in a blog post this week, retail must innovate and “create instant, personalized experiences for shoppers on their smartphone, online and in stores.” And there’s a plethora of tech vendors eager to help them engage shoppers in new ways, making them want to buy more and come back, as abundantly in evidence at the NRF show this week.

Personalized tech to reinvent the omnichannel retail experience was also on show at the Consumer Electronics Show last week in Las Vegas, but CES was just a taste of what’s on show at NRF’s annual convention.

We’ve already noted how IBM is at NRF this week to demonstrate new apps and personalization solutions from its enterprise partnership with Apple and from its big data brains at the IBM Watson Group, along with fresh research backing up the consumer desire for more personalized, relevant interactions when shopping.

Smaller vendors PowaTag, featured in IBM, HP and Samsung booths, is betting on a competitive edge in 2015 for retailers who focus on better use of Big Data; integration of Bluetooth beacons; and increased use of personalized, mobile, customer engagement tools such as audio tags and social media.

Dan Wagner, CEO and Founder, told Reuters, “We have seen a snippet of the change to come in 2015—the always-connected consumer knowing what they want and believing they can get it immediately when they need it. It is now the retailers who are doing the catching up to make that a reality.”

Microsoft is at NRF with retail partners including GameStop, Hardee’s, TGI Fridays, Panasonic, HP, FreedomPay and NCR, demonstrating smart tech solutions for retail.

Hardee’s, for example, is tesing self-ordering and in-store kiosks using Windows 8 devices (see above), while TGI Fridays is giving its servers tablets for processing customer orders and payments at the table.

GameStop, meanwhile, is working with Microsoft to enable in-store (via the cloud) to check out what’s available in-store and share your shopping cart with a sales associate, and even browse items interactively on a big screen Ultra High Definition TV.

“Most volume still moves in traditional ways, but consumer behaviour is already well down the road to where the Jetsons live,” Forbes columnist Kevin O’Marah commented on NRF ’15. Now retailers want to get them to Jetsons-style shopping.

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