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Monday, December 30, 2013

The Time Has Finally Arrived! Top Five Retail Technology Predictions for 2014

Item level RFID
Where I see the real driver of need for RFID item level tagging is with serving the demanding omni-channel requirements. How are you going to be customer focused providing great experiences with an inventory accuracy of 60 to 80%? I see many opportunities for retailers to turn well-meaning customer serving initiatives into customer satisfaction issues. You must have near 100% accuracy of your inventory if you are expecting to source from your stores for your omni-channel experience. If you say you have it in the store and I drive over to get it and you do not have it in your hand waiting for me you are toast! Even more if you offer same day delivery to combat online competition you must deliver and on time. This need for knowing real-time what you have and very specifically where it is may be one of the biggest underpinnings of being a successful retailer in this new customer-centric world. The technology is here and has been proven.

In-store tracking
The idea is that tracking in a store is no different than what happens when you are on the internet and using Google analytics. Your IP address is exposed, used and analyzed for all sorts of things that you know and don’t know about. What if a retailer could connect you and all of your personal shopping data? You could opt-in or out at your convenience. You now become a valuable customer walking around the store not a series of numbers. What if you had a trusted relationship with this retailer allowing the retailer to offer you direct promotions based on your particular wants and desires? The retailer could even begin to map your travels in their store and better understand where and what you spend your time doing. Apple and a number of other retailers are doing this very successfully using a number of different technologies.

Customer analytics
We have all talked about CRM and “big data” ad nauseam. What I believe most will agree it is not size of the data it is the quality of the data and what you do with it. What if as a customer you could also share your likes and dislikes with a trusted retailer that cooperatively helps the retailer provide the best service and offers. It is the combination of many different kinds of data, but ultimately providing relevant and valuable experiences that makes all the difference. Retailers will stop stocking the items they think customers might want and start stocking the items customers do want. This can only happen if they are armed with as much information as possible about those customers. This view of the customer can only come from merging the buying and selling processes into a single, fully integrated cycle. By collecting customer data at multiple touch points and including salespeople, demographics, and POS figures in that collection process, everything from what initially captures a customer’s attention to what prompts them to make the final transaction can be discovered if you have that trusted relationship. This technology is also ready and you will see lots of it a NRF 2014.

Mobile – personal offers
Now that you have the mechanisms to know what you have and where, stocking what customers want to buy and knowing where your customers are in your store you can unleash the customer analytics to provide the right offer at the right time and at the right place. This is where the smartphone will shine as a selling tool if done well. Many companies are now making offers on smartphones, but doing it so you make significant improvements in customer retention and basket size has been a problem. Having all these pieces will enable the retailer to finally measure their marketing investments much more precisely giving insight to making the appropriate investments. These systems are in place and we will see solid results from progressive retailers in 2014.

Replacement of the Mag Stripe
As we have seen recently at Target our credit card technology in the US is out of step with the rest of the world. We are too vulnerable to theft and I believe real actions will be taken either because of liability or force by the government. There are many different approaches out there, but this will be significantly pared down in 2014. This will be a hot one to watch!


  1. Great Top 5, Will! I would also suggest that putting tools into the hands of store associates will be big this year as well as training said associates on interacting with the customer now that they are armed.

    I love your mention of the mag stripe and I am right there with you but I'm afraid there may be more lip service than real changes coming our way just yet. We definitely need a new approach and I'm leaning the PayPal way. Let's keep our fingers crossed this gets more support so change will happen!

    Happy New Year!

  2. I agree Lee! Lets call it the top six! :)

  3. Nice post Will. I'd like to discuss "In Store Tracking" with you. There remains a large gap between video analytics of a physical environment and what can be tracked online (with both behavioral systems and observational systems) and tied to attitudinal data - how someone felt about what they were doing. When someone figures out how to do that - much more can be done to optimize the in-store customer experience.

  4. Thanks Randy! You are right. If you could capture the "why" and add that as another dimension of information we would be much closer to being truly customer centric. I do believe if customers feel there is a trusted relationship with the retailer they will tell you how they feel. I all relies on how easy and nonintrusive you make it. Smartphones can do that. Let's talk!

  5. I agree that inventory accuracy should be at the top of the list, but I'm wondering if RFID will be the panacea for this. The bigger issue - or roadblock - is ensuring that store associates correctly use the technologies they have available. Many retailers are implementing enhanced in-store inventory management systems and WMS to enable better inventory accuracy and visibility, but without solid training, strict adherence to standard inventory management processes, and strong communications of "why" things need to be done a certain way, even the best technology will not support that objective.

    1. True the human factor is always a good and bad thing. As much as we can to eliminate the high overhead inventory management processes costs and errors to help provide a great customer experience the better for customer retention and revenue. Besides RFID what technologies allows you to do in-store inventory 3-4 times a week?