Thoughts From NRF’s Big Show

Based on the products on display at the conference, it seems retailers are focused on making shopping easier—even from your phone.
Published: January 13, 2011

This week, I had the opportunity to attend the National Retail Federation‘s Big Show, the organization’s annual conference and exposition. The event was better attended than last year’s show, and there was noticeably more energy.

One big focus was clearly mobile commerce. Many vendors demonstrated solutions using QR codes, which are 2D bar codes that can be read with mobile phones, and that can take a user to a Web site, where that person can then obtain more information about a particular product and purchase it.

There was a lot of focus on the customer experience as well. Intel had one of the coolest and most trafficked booths. It showed off a vending machine and an experimental end-cap display that employed gender-detection software to determine whether a man or woman was approaching. The system can also determine age groups, to some degree—that is, it can discern that a teenage girl is approaching, for instance, or a middle-aged man.

The idea is to present information relevant to the individual approaching. So the end-cap display contained an interactive video screen that would display images of Gillette shaving products for women if a female attendee were standing in front of it, or information about products for men if the attendee were male.

The end-cap display also included RFID-enabled shelves, so if a customer were to pick up a razor, for example, information about that product would be displayed on the video screen. The system used gesture-recognition technology, so a person standing in front of the display could move his or her hand over a product image to select additional information about it. This was a big hit with attendees.

Intel also had large touch-screen video displays—perhaps eight feet high by 15 feet wide—showing images of sneakers. Attendees could scroll through the photos by swiping a finger, much like using an iPhone.

At Motorola‘s booth, Truecount and other partners displayed their RFID-enabled retail solutions. At UPM Raflatac‘s booth, Seeonic displayed a shelving unit with jeans, to demonstrate how the system could capture valuable information regarding what is sold, and then issue replenishment alerts. Pittsfield ID displayed a tool enabling retailers to show ads based on tagged items picked up by customers. And Retailers Advantage showed off an RFID tag designed for tracking and reducing theft.

Retailers are understandably interested in mobile commerce. One department store executive told me his company’s online sales were growing 10 times faster than store sales. It’s understandable that retail companies are excited by interactive displays and other cool new technologies, because they feel that shopping in a store has to be as easy and satisfying as shopping online.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or the Editor’s Note archive.