“Strengthening connections” seemed to be the overall takeaway from the National Retail Federation’s 2016 annual show in New York this week.
From data analytics to deliver a better shopper experience, to initiatives aimed at streamlining operations, connectivity has been deemed vital to the success of retailers of all stripes.
“The pressure customers are putting on retailers is tremendous,” said Michael Day, retail global program director for Austin, Texas-based Teradata.
Day identified three “mega trends” - connected consumers, the convergence of physical and web stores, and the Internet of Things for retail, which he expected to be fleshed out in the coming year.
What do these trends have in common? Connective data and analytics, which Day called “table stakes” for doing business.
Teradata’s Tony Kleiner identified a host of supermarket applications for data analytics, from digital couponing and online shopping lists to shrink prevention and cold chain management.
Toshiba’s Tadd Wilson said omnichannel retailers need to answer this question: Is the web your store, or is it a lane in your store?
But are retailers truly prepared for their new reality? A 2015 omnichannel implementation and technology survey by Atlanta-based SPI suggests not. Caroline Dunn, SPI’s head of marketing, said the survey concludes that most retailers are not ready for omnichannel.
Still, more retailers overall are identifying e-commerce growth as a priority over the in-store experience, according to Peter Zaballos, VP of marketing for Minneapolis-based SPS Commerce, a cloud-computing company offering a new platform that tracks individual items to customers.
The transition to consumer-driven retailing will place more demands on suppliers to ship directly from their warehouses, Zaballos said, adding: “There’s probably more innovation coming in grocery than all the rest of retail combined.”
Click and collect
Meanwhile, companies like Duluth, Ga.-based NCR are developing ways to help retailers get more out of their click-and-collect operations.
Yair Gorvin, Texas-based solution manager of food, drug and mass for NCR, demonstrated the company’s click-and-collect solution for shoppers that communicates directly with its picking application. The ordering app applies digital coupons, recognizes sales and sends a bar code to shoppers’ mobile or wearable devices to be scanned at pickup. Meanwhile, NCR’s Power Picking app tells store associates in what order products should be picked based on store planograms, product sell-by dates and other criteria. The system allows up to eight orders to be picked at once, zoned to allow multiple pickers to pick same orders to maximize efficiency.
For in-store experiences, “we’re seeing a growing demand for self-checkout,” said Dusty Lutz, NCR’s GM for food, drug, mass merchandise and self-checkout solutions. Lutz demonstrated FastLane, the company’s sixth-generation self-checkout stand that can be converted to cashier operation in about 25 seconds, and can switch back and forth to accommodate changing store demands.
Andy Winans, CEO of Cincinnati-based PCMS, also noted demand for self-checkout; his company offers units that accept only credit payments and fit smaller footprints.
Companies like AT&T are driving connectivity among consumers and the supply chain, notes Paul Rombach, director of vertical marketing.
Retailers are putting TVs in their stores so they can control the advertising shown, Rombach explains, noting the high value of digital signage in directing traffic to targeted store areas.
Meanwhile, AT&T is partnering with RetailNext on in-store analytics that compare shopper movements against macro sales data.
RetailNext’s Andre Anderson demonstrated an application that tracks store traffic and what people are buying verses the total market, while Rombach explained Data Patterns for Visitors, which delivers analytics for areas around the store.
Analytics can also help retailers better serve shoppers through staffing levels. Kronos Inc. offers systems that demonstrate when grocers’ high-margin departments need staffing beefed up, explained Charlie DeWitt, VP of vertical marketing, who advocates a demand approach to staff levels in order to ensure good service and repeat business in lucrative categories like deli and prepared foods.
“People are fundamental to the business and we can show linkage between labor and revenue,” DeWitt asserted.
In a session hosted by IBM and partner Reflexis, Chris Kelly, senior director of operations, planning and organizing for Pittsburgh-based supermarket chain Giant Eagle, presented “Real Time Customers Require Real-Time Store Operations."
Kelly explained how Giant Eagle is installing a suite of interconnected Reflexis systems to better handle the increasing complexity of retailing due to competitive forces.
“We’re asking associates to do things they’ve never had to do before to grow the business,” Kelly said, noting that associates feel the brunt of these growth pressures as they’re faced with helping to execute new offerings, helm bigger stores and cope with changing federal regulations.
Giant Eagle Project Blueprint is the retailer’s real-time task management system, a “team approach to working smart,” aimed at helping to better deliver on the grocer’s goals of ops efficiency, consistency among stores and a sustainable process.
The integrated system includes real-time alerts, a retail task manager that turns strategy into action, better compliance with safety regulations, and advanced analytics and reporting, which Kelly said is “going to give us insights into our business that we never had before.” The components are in various stages of rollout among Giant Eagle’s stores.
“We want to remove PCs from our stores,” Kelly added. “We want our people completely mobile – it’s a real game-changer for us.”
Yet another potential game-changer – though one not yet in the grocery channel – comes from Texas-based Theatro, which makes a voice-controlled wearable computer for hourly service employees.
Theatro’s Patrick Fitzgerald explained the device helps associates focus greater attention on customers compared to using handheld devices. It “allows headquarters to have the ear of the employee,” he said, explaining that the device is a better conduit to in-store teams, whether person to person, or person to machine, to access key data.