NRF 2019 Recap: The Top Technologies Driving the Retail Customer Experience

Interactive AR/VR systems, displays, holograms, robots, and ISV expertise will play vital roles in helping retailers bridge consumers’ e-commerce and in-store experiences.

The NRF 2019 Big Show is behind us, but the technology on display will point the way forward for retailers. According to NRF, there were more than 37,000 attendees at the January 13-15 event in New York City and nearly 800 exhibitors.

At the Epson booth, our LightScene Accent Lighting Laser Projectors were part of an impressive display of what our products can do when combined with digital signage software and analytics software (4YouSee). Using facial recognition and an IP camera, the software can detect a person’s age, gender and their disposition (happy, sad or somewhere in the middle). Based on this data, it determines the appropriate type of messaging to display on the digital sign.

The solution wasn’t running on a PC, but instead was powered by Epson’s new OmniLink receipt printer (available later this year) which has enough compute power to run apps and manage peripherals such as LightScene projectors.

Not only can this printer save retailers money (i.e., they won’t need to make separate computer and printer investments), it also optimizes in-store real estate, making it perfect for pop-up stores and other small environments. Plus, when delivered as a solution, it plays a key role in driving customer experiences. For example, after a customer pays for something the countertop could light up thanking them for their purchase and giving them their reward balance. Or, LightScene could be integrated with RFID to direct shoppers to a particular area of the store (using the light displays) to get more information about a product they’re interested in (determined by input from the RFID sensor).

From AI to VR – Retail Poised to Embrace New Technologies

There were plenty of other new technologies on display that could radically alter the shopping experience using a mix of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI) and other solutions.

All Things Media demoed a VR solution that is being used to sell cars at a Cadillac dealership. This could potentially take the vehicle purchasing experience to an entirely different level using near-reality interfaces. The vehicles in the demo were beautiful; you could walk around, open doors, and enter the automobile – all the while changing options to see what strikes your fancy. For example, with a swipe of your hand, you could change the wheels, the interior, or the color of the car. It was exciting to see technology being used to facilitate the sale of a long-lived brand that is trying to recreate itself. (Here’s a glimpse of what the technology can do.)

Mirow Tech has integrated interactive, touch-based fitting room mirrors with e-commerce. This isn’t a new concept, but the mirror looks impressive. The system uses RFID and barcode scanning to identify products and gives customers the ability to request a new size from an associate, view specials and even enroll in the store’s loyalty program.

The Headworks Holographic Mannequin by Headworks and AAMSCO Group is another solution that takes a familiar retail item (the mannequin) and gives it a high-tech upgrade, and it was an impressive sight. This mannequin is a hologram from the neck up and talks and sings as well. Retail needs this type of ability to use projection to create a futuristic display, and I can think of several use cases where this could be helpful to consumers in retail and other environments, like airports.

Another impressive product came from Smart Pixels, which uses projection mapping (something Epson is familiar with) and augmented reality. The booth featured a pair of white shoes, a white watch, and a white shirt – a projector transformed each product into a different design. The watch even included animated graphics. This system is like providing a movie teaser for your favorite product. Retailers can showcase a variety of customizations and products that aren’t in stock. This is precisely the type of technology that provides a spectacular customer experience.

Blockv has come up with another way to improve the customer experience by “gamifying” customer interactions. The company offers a blockchain technology that includes virtual goods (Vatoms) that can be owned, traded or collected. It’s a bit like Pokémon Go, and the Vatoms can be redeemed for prizes, loyalty points or other rewards.

One of the use case examples they presented was a way to incentivize sports team fans to attend away games. Using Vatoms at the games, fans could collect items and compete for rewards, such as meeting a player, for instance.

In retail, I could see brands adapting something like this to offer coupons, discounts, or loyalty points, and to merge larger brands for blanket campaigns to promote related products. Imagine a leading shoe store running a campaign with a clothing store. It’s fun, and I could see how shoppers would enjoy it. It’s all about loyalty, and I’m sure the data analyzation side of this is pretty impressive as well.

Bryan Things is focused on giving retailers the ability to cater to the specific desires of their customers. They offer everything from sensor bars that can detect when an item is picked up, triggering a high-resolution monitor to display catered content, to custom ribbon printing solutions for gifts. They also have beauty apps for cosmetics, modern vending machines and even the ability to engrave custom compacts.

New Life for Displays

Electronic shelf label systems and displays were everywhere at NRF this year, and for a good reason – they present endless possibilities when it comes to brands and retailers elevating the customer experience. SFD Systems is a good example: They provide full-color, digital price displays that can be quickly changed and updated.

Visual displays play a vital role in making the shopper’s experience more enjoyable, memorable, and practical. Currently, we rely on the brands to create compelling packaging, and on stores to display and merchandise them with their design touch. This display technology adds another layer of store control that will help promote more product sales.

Perch is another company that is changing the way we think about store displays. Their technology provides interactive displays that provide content based on items that shoppers pick up and examine. This presents the products in the best possible light using custom content otherwise unavailable in-store—they are bridging the online and in-store experiences. Products like these are a great way to embrace the omnichannel concept. The solution provides rich content that is highly interactive and memorable. You can even read a review in-store. That’s something most shoppers use their phones to do; Perch pulls them back into the store display to get that information.

The sort of auto-detection that Perch relies on to initiate its content is working its way into retail in other ways, too, such as through the use of IP cameras to monitor products on shelves. This lets retailers know when an item has been removed, picked up and placed back on the shelf, or needs replenishment, all in real time. I toured a store in San Francisco that utilized this technology, and it seemed very close to being ready for mainstream.

I also saw a lot of retail robotics systems this year. Badger Technologies has an autonomous robot for grocery inventory applications. The robot can also be a store’s “eyes and ears,” and help ensure that floors are clean and safe for customers. It’s already been deployed in a few stores, and you can see it in action here. Bossanova also offers robots for retail inventory auditing.

Heasy by Hease Robotics is a cool looking robot that’s used with a kiosk application. The company claims it can provide 20 times more interactions than a standard kiosk. (Check it out here.)

Finally, deploying all of this technology on your retail network will present a challenge to your IT team. Aerohive Networks has a solution for that. The company offers an AI-driven network manager that can tell you how your network is running compared to others that have similar equipment. It also features an Alexa integration that helps troubleshoot network issues, and it provides text message notifications when a POS tablet or device is not communicating. You can even ask Alexa about your network status. The offering also includes auto-config devices, retail analytics based on WiFi and iBeacons (built into their products), along with a way to compare networks across stores.

In my estimation, the most successful ISVs will be the ones that can bundle their software with some of the technologies mentioned above and create solutions that go beyond traditional POS and e-commerce functionality. More specifically, ISVs that deliver solutions that engage consumers while providing retailers with valuable business insights will be the big winners in the customer experience economy.  


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Joshua Stanphill
Joshua Stanphill is a Business Development Manager for ISVs and Strategic Alliances for Epson America’s POS printers. He recently joined Epson coming from two mPOS startups and has a vast array of knowledge around mobile and cloud-based retail point of sale solutions and is considered to be very progressive in his beliefs on the future of where retail and restaurant technology will go. With military, entrepreneurship and software startup experiences, plus an eye for creating beautiful brands and products, Joshua is excited to have joined Epson America in April of this year. His focus at Epson is seeking out emerging markets and products, and to introduce them to the powerful eco-system that Epson can offer to its partners.