Though the holiday rush currently sits at the top of most retailers’ priority lists, there’s another industry-wide event just around the corner: the 2024 NRF Big Show. The annual gathering of retail leaders and innovators brings together over 6,000 of the industry’s best and brightest brands to share ideas, successes, and plans for the future.
While no one can say for sure what innovative tools and announcements will stem from this year’s conference, it’s safe to assume that one technology — AI — will take center stage, as its potential to shape the industry’s trajectory has become increasingly clear over the past year.
The dawn of a new era for data
It’s no secret that artificial intelligence (AI) has been the technological darling of 2023. When generative AI became available to the masses with ChatGPT in late 2022, all eyes turned to the field’s potential to improve business operations. While generative tools and language models certainly have value for retail enterprises, analytics tools have emerged as a primary focus for retailers investing in AI, and this application is likely to emerge as a continued guiding theme at the show.
Backed by cutting-edge processors, real-time analytics is now possible within retail locations, providing deeper, more nuanced insight into operations than ever before. The use cases for deep analytics within retail are near limitless, empowering leaders to visualize performance throughout their supply chains, on the floor, in storage facilities, and beyond. With this in mind, advancements in capabilities, monitoring ecosystems and more are likely to be at the heart of discussions throughout the event, with vendors and retailers showcasing AI-driven tools that support:
More satisfying experiences. Exhibitors at the event will likely be showing off the latest and greatest tools to support seamless shopper journeys, as personalizing experiences for shoppers continues to be a key opportunity for retailers. Shopper expectations and preferences are always changing, so keeping up with these trends is critical to retailers. However, leaders must also weigh the benefits of going all-in on the latest tool or experience against their long-term objectives.
Modern analytics tools use computer vision and AI to highlight emerging trends. They can parse through sales, path to purchase, shopper insights and behavior along with other data streams to show retailers how shoppers interact with associates and displays as well as their reactions to different in-store elements to guide adjustments. This helps retailers eliminate friction where possible and ensure their stores are optimized through more effective layouts and floor plans, inventory management practices and labor models. Audience measurement data allows retailers to tailor merchandise mix, promotional display placements, planogram designs, and assortment strategies, for an enhanced shopper experience.
Holistic loss prevention. Organized retail crime (ORC) has become a common theme in headlines within retail of late as organizations around the world note a sharp increase in incidents and impact. Retailers have focused significant resources on solving the problem. Developing a holistic approach to loss prevention may offer relief, and AI-based systems make that possible.
These systems use data from throughout the enterprise alongside advanced, real-time processing to provide loss prevention teams with a comprehensive view of their losses. Leveraging radio frequency identification (RFID) monitoring, smart exits and more, these systems can dig deeper into shrink. Then, computer-vision-enabled video feeds can show retailers footage and highlight the tactics thieves used in the lead-up to the theft. With an estimated 1 billion security cameras in use, the insights gained from broad implementation could also have implications for legislation or lead to general, industry-wide adjustments.
Operational resilience. Though COVID’s most disruptive days seem to be behind us, retail leaders will not soon shake the knowledge that global supply chains and economies exist in a tenuous balance. The situation laid bare the importance of resilience, flexibility and efficiency to ongoing operations.
Retailers and vendors at NRF 2024 are likely to be showcasing how they use analytics to support more resilient retail operations. As such, solutions like high-frequency-RFID-powered inventory intelligence will be at center stage. When paired with source-tagging initiatives, RFID can help retailers get end-to-end supply chain visibility, allowing them to track items from factory to warehouse to floor. By aggregating and analyzing this data alongside shopper behavior insights, intelligent retail systems can automate replenishment, get ahead of out-of-stocks, alert retailers to supply chain disruptions, and optimize labor models.
The Big Show and beyond
No one can say what the future will bring for retailers, but the topics that dominate the conversation at NRF tend to be a good indication of where the industry is headed. While the event is always a breeding ground for progress, this year’s Big Show promises to be one for the history books.
The advancements in computer vision and AI, computing power, connected systems, predictive and prescriptive data analytics, internet of things (IoT) devices and other emerging technologies have driven significant progress over the past year — and the promise of these fields to solve retail’s biggest challenges will be at center stage, with data-led insights taking top billing.