The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Big Show in New York revealed what looks to be an exciting year for the retail industry. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers, brands and technology providers showcased exciting new opportunities, technological advances and innovations, some of which are already being implemented.
Consumer behaviour has changed radically over the past two years and this has accelerated e-commerce forward at lightning speed. Stores have been forced to act as distribution centres due to this changing behaviour and as a result, the demand for product availability, seamless shopping and sustainable retail has increased tremendously.
Sustainability is a prominent theme, and with the climate change threat and the need for new initiatives growing daily, retail technology needs to focus on the efficiency of supply chains in order to reduce costs and waste.
Customers are now more conscious of how they purchase and dispose of everyday items. To safeguard customer loyalty, retailers and brands have to adapt to this shift in behaviour and make sure consumers can identify themselves with the brands they love while also educating themselves on where products come from (provenance) and how they make it through the supply chain (carbon footprint).
As our contribution, RFID helps create better visibility about the provenance, composition, and carbon footprint of products. Also, RFID labels themselves will become more committed to environmental values. Technological innovation allows printing RFID labels on recycled paper and without plastic layers and harmful chemicals. Additionally, this allows for high volumes and high-quality materials to be used while still being cost-neutral.
With physical retail entering a new age, it is now having to operate in line with changing consumer behaviour, something visitors to the show were keen to experience. Stores have increasingly become a place where consumers spend their leisure time, find social interactions and get a feel for the brand rather than just purchasing the products. This can also be told by the rise of new store concepts that focus on showcasing brand values and building communities instead of just selling merchandise.
Digital tools for physical problems
Launched last year, the Nedap iD Cloud Platform, an integrated suite of SaaS solutions purposefully built for RFID technology made its debut at this year’s show.
Nedap iD Cloud allows retailers and brands to create perfect inventory visibility with zero waste and no losses by tracking every unique item movement throughout the supply chain and collecting data in a cloud-based inventory repository, whether it’s in-store, a distribution centre or through loss prevention efforts. The platform has been deployed in over 10,000 stores across the globe by a number of well known brands, which makes Nedap iD Cloud the fastest growing RFID platform available today.
G-Star RAW, a global denim brand, is one of the retailers to implement the iD Cloud platform. “As a brand, you must integrate e-commerce and traditional retail to create a seamless shopping experience for today’s hyper connected consumer,” said Barry van Wijk, Head of Retail Operations at G-Star RAW.
“We have clearly seen a change in the traditional role of stores. They used to be the go-to spot to try and buy denim, but the actual purchase isn’t necessarily made in stores anymore. Stores are transforming into an even more important asset to give shoppers a full omnichannel brand experience as we now use them as mini distribution centres as well. This enables our customers to pick up an item they have just purchased online or have it delivered to them within a day.”
Also using technology to boost overall inventory accuracy, increase omnichannel sales growth and operational efficiencies is Carter’s, the largest branded marketer in North America of apparel.
As customer shopping shifts to omnichannel, the accuracy of store inventory becomes increasingly important. “With RFID, we can offer a broader assortment of inventory available to our customers opting for in-store or curbside pickup,” explains Andrew Tashiro, Senior Director of Omnichannel at Carter’s. “In addition to improving the customer experience, better inventory management through RFID is an important tool to deliver increased profitability in our retail business.”
An automated future
The use of robotic solutions were prevalent again at NRF this year, with automation now a recognised part of digital transformation. While we see RFID handhelds as the “swiss knife” for retailers, there is now the option to cover multiple roles and look to automate processes. This can include the likes of transition reading or real-time locating. However, such solutions are never “one-size-fits-all,” as it is necessary to find the right technology setup for specific environments and processes.
It is important to recognise the upcoming challenges the industry will face alongside its innovations, including increasing wages and a shortage of skilled workers, which will continue to rise in 2022. In this context, RFID helps to provide more automation, better data, and smart tools to improve labour efficiency.
Additionally, the speed of implementation will also play a big part. Retailers are eager to solve their stock inaccuracy problems by deploying RFID, however, it’s become a battle for resources for retailers who are also undergoing digitisation projects. To overcome this, it’s important to orchestrate different initiatives (RFID, OMS, mobile payment, digital touchpoints, mobile apps) in parallel.
Regardless of 2022’s NRF being a scaled down event, it does not take away the insights and trends experienced by those that attended that will shape the future of the industry. The level of innovation shone through at the show as did the resilience of the retail sector, showcasing how fast the vendors and retailers were able to adapt to new approaches.
The shift to omnichannel retailing at scale has been a long time coming, but the last two years has seen five years’ worth of innovation happen across the sector. We have also seen completely new dynamics emerge and innovative solutions come to the fore to address challenges that weren’t even on retailers’ radars pre-pandemic — and that’s exciting.
The rapid pace of innovation in areas such as changing supply chains, how robotics and retail will work together, customer experience and how integrated technology is inevitable for digital transformation will only accelerate in the coming years. These themes bode well for the overall ability for the retail sector to emerge from recent challenges and thrive, continuing to provide the improved retail experiences that consumers still crave.