While IT budgets remain tight, retailers are headed to the National Retail Federation's 92nd Annual Convention and Expo in New York City looking for price optimization software, supply-chain execution systems and other technologies that will provide quick returns on their IT investments.
Richard Mader, executive director of the Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS), the standards body of the NRF (www.nrf.com), believes that despite the difficult retail climate there will be a wealth of technology available to streamline operations. Mader is the former SVP and CIO of Boscov's Department Stores.
"There was a lot of money spent on IT during the last three or four years," he observes. "But even though the dollars (for IT purchases) just aren't there right now, you're still going to see an awful lot of things that you haven't seen before."
Mader anticipates that supply chain systems, RFID ("lots of hype there") and pricing systems will be among the categories that stand out at the conference. He also ventures a few predictions for the months that lie ahead: "With point-of-sale, I think you'll see some spending there. Other areas, like large-scale ERP implementations, might be down."
Mader hopes that attendees will walk away from the conference "with new ideas for solutions with short-term ROI" and "increased knowledge of things like merchandise optimization that directly impact the bottom line."
He's looking forward to seeing the newest innovations from SAP (www.sap.com), Retek (www.retek.com), Symbol (www.symbol.com) and ProfitLogic (www.profitlogic.com), and plans to spend some time scouting the smaller vendors in the back of the exhibition hall: "I always make it a point to visit the small vendors. Many grow into giants or sell their ideas to large companies", Mader explains.
He speaks animatedly about a pavilion that's twice the size of the one the group had at last year's NRF conference. At the booth, ten vendors, among them IBM (www.ibm.com), Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) and NCR (www.ncr.com), will be demonstrating the use of ARTS' UnifiedPOS and IXRetail standards within their applications. Three other technology-standards groups, including the Uniform Code Council, the Open Application Group and the National Association of Convenience Stores plan to be on hand to discuss and demonstrate their standards as well.
Conference attendees plan on arriving at the Jacob Javits Center with a show-me attitude, if not the limitless IT budgets of years past. John Horwath, VP of IT at California-based teen apparel and music retailer Hot Topic, expects to see significant advances in a handful of key categories, including labor management (especially related to time and attendance) and PIN pads/signature capture.
"For retailers, it's a perfect time to get started on innovation," he says, citing an interest in exploring the offerings of Triversity (www.triversity.com) and STS (www.nsbgroup.com), among others.
Horwath says he hopes the show will generate the necessary sparks that will enable attendees to focus on their technology needs. "Retailers have always been behind the times from a technology standpoint," he says. "It appears that they are starting to get more active in technology, especially at the store level."