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05/28/2021

As the World Reopens, Virtual Conferences Remain as Vital as Ever

Tim Denman
Editor in Chief
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Industry networking and educational events are a mainstay of the retail calendar. They are vital to staying connected with your peers, as well as getting exposed to the latest and greatest technologies and strategies.

As the world went into isolation during the ongoing pandemic, event producers were forced to experiment with and adopt new virtual formats to continue to provide the conference experience to eager industry executives. With social distancing mandates becoming less stringent, much of the industry has its eyes fixed on the second half of the year, where many in-person events are scheduled to recommence. But even as we move back toward in-person events, the virtual conference will continue to play a critical role and will likely remain a mainstay of the experience.

Advantech took an interesting approach with its Advantech Connect conference this year, stretching the virtual conference across multiple months, providing ample opportunity for those interested in cutting-edge IoT content with numerous opportunities to connect and learn. And as is the case with most sophisticated virtual events, the event lives on in on-demand form, providing even greater educational opportunities.  

Advantech services multiple industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, transportation, and retail. The extensive Advantech Connect agenda addressed all of these markets, but of course I was instantly drawn to the retail track. I posted a blog last month on the entire event, focusing on a media session I was invited to attend.

This blog will provide a quick recap of the retail track of the “Smart City Solutions and Services” section that took place late last month. The recap is meant to provide a peak at some of the great quick-hitter presentations presented in the hour and a half event. The entire session is available on-demand here.

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The “Smart City Solutions and Services” presentations all centered around how IoT can be used throughout retail to provide next-gen, seamless experience for shoppers, while providing the retailer numerous benefits — data collection, personalized marketing, reduced labor costs, etc.

The session was kicked off by Advantech’s Styrbjoern Torbacke. Torbacke set the stage for the content to come and provided an update on “How Self-Service Will Transform the Retail Industry.”

Torbacke explored retail’s innovation roadmap, explaining how there is constant rate of innovation and change that can be accelerated in times or crisis or increased demand — which we have seen firsthand over the past 18 months in the face of COVID-induced disruption. Some of those innovations that are rushed to market will become but a memory once the crisis is behind us — think self-serve temperature scanners — while others like self-serve checkout and scan-and-go technology will remain bastions of the retail experience. 

To pinpoint which technologies have staying power, you need to have “insight into what the customer wants,” Torbacke said. “The customer is the judge, jury and executioner.”

Following Torbacke on the virtual stage was Carsten Szameitat from the Location Based Marketing Association (LBMA). He hosted a group of LBMA members who provided mini case studies on how location-based technology can be leveraged to improve operations and provide promotional messaging to shoppers when they are close to a physical location and/or are actively “in-market” for your goods or services.

Among the innovative solutions presented, LBMA founder and president Asif Khan discussed the concept of Cloud Kitchens. The new take on dark kitchens positions the kitchen as a shared asset among multiple brands, designed to place the asset close to the end-user, allowing for quick, seamless delivery.

“Restaurants don’t need hundreds of locations anymore,” said Khan. “They need to be able to process large volumes of orders locally. Instead of it just one brand or chain, the kitchen can make food from 20 or 30 different restaurant brands.”

Following Khan’s comments Advantech’s David Chantry hosted a panel discussion on the “Future of AI in Retail.” The panel included Remus Pop from Neurolabs, Steve Slough of TAG Retail Systems, Nikk Smith from Pixel Inspiration, and James Brenner of Esprit Digital.

Below are some key observations from the panel:

  • Pop: “Object recognition is part of the bigger trend of computer vision. We have seen an increase in industry adoption lately. There are many factors influencing this, but there is still a large gap to what could be done in theory and what is actually being translated to the real world.”
  • Slough: “At a micro level AI is being put to work at self-checkout and register tills to deal with shrinkage and loss prevention. This is a crucial area where AI needs to be greater leveraged.”
  • Smith: “Brick-and-mortar is going to continue to be increasingly connected to online operations, rather than standalone entities. Retail will become more experiential in nature, and the in-store journey will be more fun and will entice shoppers to visit.”
  • Brenner: “Shoppers want more from a digital screen than just an advertisement. We have developed a wayfinding solution which allows people to go up to a screen and simply ask it how to get where they want to go. Interactivity is key.”

The retail “Smart City Solutions and Services” session was brought to an end with a discussion on “The Need for Payment Solutions Addressing the New Normal.” Advantech’s Chris Tulk hosted fellow Advantech executive Russ Embree and Innovantage Payment Solutions’ Bill Rorick for a discussion on where payment technology is headed.

The group was in agreement that contactless payment has been the hottest payment technology over the past 12 months and will continue to be a vital piece of retail’s POS offering well into the future. Contactless payment has numerous use cases including vending, transportation, QSRs, mobile and arcade games, as well as traditional retail environments. As it is becoming more popular across the industry, banks and retailers are increasing the maximum ticket amount they allow for contactless payment.

Part of that increase is linked to the security of contactless payment. Although the payment method does not require a pin, it is EMV compliant, and interestingly when EMV is introduced into a new territory, the use of contactless payment increases in lockstep. To the customer it is all about speed, convenience, and security.

The entire Advantech Connect is available on-demand here, and is a great resource for all things IoT.

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