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Key technology trends at NRF 2018

Key technology trends at NRF 2018
Wednesday January 17 2018

Technology companies showcase practical, real-world solutions at this year's Retail Big Show, according to RetailInsider.com's Glynn Davis

The days of glitzy bits of hardware, such as magic mirrors and gimmicky dancing robots driven by underpowered software looking for a solution certainly seemed to be over at this year's NRF judging by this year’s Retail’s Big Show organised by the US industry association, the National Retail Federation (NRF), writes Glynn Davis of RetailInsider.com
 
What has replaced this lack of substance is much more powerful software running artificial intelligence (AI) driven solutions that are solving real world problems. IBM Retail was this year highlighting its work with retailers that helps shoppers find goods more effectively through searches carried out via chatbots - across voice, visuals and text. 1-800 Flowers, North Face, and Staples are just some of the companies using its cognitive computing solutions to automate the search task.
 
But Chris Palmer, cognitive offering lead at IBM, is more excited about what he calls 'hyperlocal data optimisation'. “We are quantifying the effect of elements like the weather and local activities on potential sales," he said. "We can do product mix optimisation by store and we’ve experienced a 3-5% increase in net sales with hyperlocalised store formats when working with Unilever.”
 
For now though retailers are very much focused on honing their search capabilities and recommendation engines with AI. Among the providers at NRF showcasing their skills was Volumental, which is working with footwear retailers such as New Balance and Fleet Feet Sports to undertake a 3D scan of customers feet and then use AI on their past shopping histories and that of other people with the same sized feet.
 
Improving conversion 

Ellen Dorsman, key account manager at Volumental, says this can produce a higher level of conversion and deliver on the key metric for retailers - reducing returns. This will be based on the accuracy of the fit and the quality of the recommendation.
 
Visual-based technology was another big trend this year at NRF. Slyce delivers visual search engine image recognition for numerous retailers including Home Depot, Macy’s and Tommy Hilfiger in the US and UK.
 
Nicole Mann, chief operating officer at Slyce, says the quality of its image recognition is superior to the likes of Amazon and Google as it builds classifiers and detectors, which are the initial level of recognition. Machine learning is employed to train the solution to recognise user generated photographs of variable quality: “Retailers see average order values increase by 20% and conversion rates are 60% higher when using the technology.”
 
Visual software capabilities 

The improved capabilities of visual software is driving lots of activity with facial recognition. Intel showcased a variety of solutions that use its RealSense technology. Wal-Mart has been working with The Hershey Company and Pepsi across five stores to pilot digital shelf-edge labelling that recognises when people are passing by the shelves and shows the pricing. When nobody is close by then they show promotional imagery.
 
Ryan Parker, within Internet of Things retail solutions at Intel, said: “The facial recognition could recognise Hispanic customers and change the language on the shelves and digital screens. We can get to the point where we’ll know shoppers and can build algorithms to drive more specific messaging. The retailer could store individual customers photos [on an opt-in basis] and do personalised offers.”
 
This is very much in the plans of Lolli & Pops. It is to roll out a facial recognition solution to its stores that will throw up an image of the customer onto the sales assistants’ tablets to highlight they have entered the store. “They will also see their purchase history, and the AI capability will recommend products based on their purchases and those of similar customers,” Parker said.
 
CaliBurger is also using facial recognition on its newly launched kiosk that has been developed with NEC and its NEOFace software. John Miller, chief executive of Cali Group, which runs 50 restaurants around the world, said the software recognises the customer when they approach the kiosk and automatically activates their loyalty programme and preferences ahead of them ordering from the interactive screen. There will also shortly be the capability to make a payment via facial recognition and CVV for extra security. The latter will be removed when the 3D recognition camera is introduced.
 
Autonomous developments 

Cali Group is also advanced with its use of robotics, which across NRF this year did not feature as  strongly as in the past. The dancing robots have been consigned to history so what we are now seeing just relevant developments.
 
Miller says the group has developed ‘Flippy’ to flip burgers and over the past two years its capabilities have been gradually improved by AI. It is now in a position to be rolled out from the single store where it has so far been used.
 
One of the few other robotic implementations this year came from Bossa Nova Robotics that is being used by Walmart in 50 stores to autonomously move around the aisles and use a combination of image recognition and radio frequency identification (RFID) to check inventory levels and planogram compliances across the stores.
 
“It can also read labels and detect if they are in the right position as well as being the correct price for the product. It’s getting rid of the tedious tasks for store employees,” Parker at Intel added.  

Tagged as: NRF | | IBM | AI | North Face | Staples | Volumental | New Balance | Slyce | Home Depot | Macy's | Tommy Hilfiger | Intel | The Hershey Company | Cali Group | NEC