By Paul Wolf

New York weather has nothing on the annual National Retail Federation Big Show, especially this year’s show. Not even the strongest winds or coldest temperatures could match the flurry of activity, announcements, news and noise. Like every year, NRF was a full-throttle race showcasing the hottest, fastest and newest technologies.

Paul Wolf, vice president of Retail and Consumer Products for Xerox.

“I discovered — really, re-discovered — four realities in retail. They reminded me why I’m in this industry.” — Paul Wolf, vice president of Retail and Consumer Products for Xerox.

Now that it’s behind us, what’s next? What do retailers and vendors take from the show? I discovered—really, re-discovered—four realities in retail. They reminded me why I’m in this industry. Maybe they’ll remind you too.

Do It Differently. There’s never a shortage of innovation and ideas at NRF. One of the best examples involves Shelfbucks and GameStop – and in-store beacons, which typically identify an in-store shopper and then “welcome” them to the store with coupons or other shopping-driven content. Shelfbucks and GameStop flip this on its head. Instead, customers with the GameStop app can hold their phone over a beacon device on the shelf and get access to a range of product reviews and other details about the game.  As the signage specifies, customers can also get access to discounts on that item. The distinction? This way pulls the customer, versus pushing content, which Shelfbucks compares to e-mail spam. Read this related article.

The Platform Still Remains Relevant. It’s not a glamorous topic, but platforms remain paramount. As omnichannel and Internet-Everything prevail—and as security problems remain—retailers need to re-examine the health and capabilities of their technologies. How do they work and adapt to an omnichannel world? On the show floor, Earthlink’s Secure Store Front was showcased. It manages and identifies threats, offers PCI compliance, connects with mobile customers and captures business intelligence. Cisco’s Connected Retail was interesting too, with a focus on the Internet of Everything, mobility and connected analytics. Both proved compelling. Also of interest was Chico’s retail stores usage of tech tables. The tables are interactive and give in-store shoppers an in-store/online experience, all at once. A story last year in FashInvest tells the story best.

The Customer Comes First. We know this, ad nauseum, but hearing it from Bill Simon, Wal Mart’s president and CEO, was a strong reminder that what we say versus what we do are often not aligned. He said that while channel integration is critical, taking care of customers must be the starting point for anything–especially “omnichannel.” He added that today’s e-commerce approach is one dimensional. Unless that changes, growth will be limited. I agree.

Proving Retail is the World’s Best Industry. Retailers and the vendor community proved it again this year. They gave more than $400,000 to help orphans around the world via RetailROI Super Saturday on Jan. 10, just prior to the show. I’ve had the privilege to actually go on a trip to Honduras with other RetailROI volunteers (and my two oldest sons). Life-changing. A key highlight was to hear Katie Meyler, founder of More Than Me, shared her personal and candid story in fighting the Ebola crisis in Liberia.

In essence, this year’s NRF was five star. Retailers are increasingly savvy about “what’s next.” They’re ready to invest in tech but it must be tried and true, and tied to customer service – and tangible business benefits. Even discussions about store-level tech support got several thumbs ups. A complete NRF 2015 re-cap is online.

It won’t be long now before we head to NRF 2016. I’ll be there again. It’s worth every minute.

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