Nothing could stop NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show – not icy winter temperatures and inclement weather, not even the latest iteration of a lingering pandemic. According to National Retail Federation President and CEO Matt Shay, despite these challenges, the event, which ran Jan. 16-18 at New York’s Javits Center, managed to draw about 20,000 attendees and 800 exhibiting companies, along with a range of speakers.
Even a cursory trip around the show floor was enough to reveal a breathtaking range of solutions to help retailers, from sourcing of products to the in-store customer experience, and all points in between. Following are five particularly noteworthy trends observed at NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show:
• Automation Rules: This one was pretty obvious, from the sheer number of such solutions in evidence at the show, including Locus Robotics’ “co-bots,” designed to work alongside humans in fulfillment warehouses, zipping around the company’s display area; AutoStore’s grid-based picking system, also being demoed; Avidbots’ state-of-the-art robotic floor cleaner; and Ottonomy, whose proprietary technology enables fully autonomous curbside and last-mile delivery, reducing retail’s carbon footprint, to name just a few.
According to BJ Santiago, CEO of Nicholasville, Ky.-based Badger Technologies, a maker of inventory control and hazard mitigation robots that traverse store aisles at such grocers as Woodman’s and Ahold Delhaize USA banners Giant/Martin’s and Stop & Shop, automated in-store tech is becoming much more the norm, with units offering additional capabilities, such as robotic arms for stocking shelves, probably rolling out in the next five to 10 years.
Sam Saad, VP of strategy and growth at Mountain View, Calif.-based Gatik, a provider of “middle-mile” solutions through its fleet of autonomous trucks that are currently moving items for Walmart and largest Canadian retailer Loblaws, noted that the company was “scaling up rapidly” in anticipation of “explosive growth” in terms of new partnerships, expansions of existing partnerships and infusion of new capital. As to when fully automated vehicles shuttling products from warehouses to stores and from store to store on public roads becomes the industry standard, Saad predicted “big shifts in the next five years.”
• Crypto is Coming: With all of the buzz surrounding cryptocurrency, particularly Bitcoin, of late, it’s only natural that retailers would increasingly be looking into crypto as a payment option for consumers, and tech companies are meeting that need. Atlanta-based NCR, for example, recently acquired cryptocurrency software provider LibertyX, which enables customers the ability to buy and sell cryptocurrency, conduct cross-border remittance, and accept digital currency payments across digital and physical channels. NCR will use its Pay360 platform to offer the LibertyX capabilities as part of its solutions for banks, retailers and restaurants.
Unsurprisingly, Peter Jensen, CEO of San Francisco-based RocketFuel Blockchain, a global payment-processing company offering one-click checkout solutions using Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, is particularly bullish on crypto, explaining that retailers that accept cryptocurrencies as a payment option in-store or online will increase revenue by gaining access to a new wealthy group of customers, many of them younger, and reduce cost, since, unlike credit cards, crypto never gets declined and there are no chargebacks.
Additionally, in common with David Wilkinson, president of NCR Retail, Jensen views crypto as particularly beneficial for the unbanked and underbanked populations of the world, as it enables them to take part in the digital economy, in which “your phone becomes your bank,” as Jensen put it.
Jensen noted that in stores, grocers could integrate the cryptocurrency payment option into their point-of-sales system, allowing shoppers to pay by phone, as they already do with such options as Apple Pay. Although he acknowledged that on the whole, the United States is lagging behind in the adoption of crypto, despite Miami’s reputation as something of a hub in this regard, he believes that the main driver for change will be when the U.S. Central Bank comes out with a plan for cryptocurrency, a move that he thinks could happen as soon as this year.