Tech Matters: NRF Big Show and the outtakes for Retail and Foodservice Innovation

9 min read
Published January 30, 2024   |  Last Updated March 1, 2024

NRF2024_RBS_StackedCircle_RedCircle_RGB_Date[65]-1The retail landscape in 2024 presents a dynamic and evolving scenario. It's a world where technology, consumer expectations, and economic factors intertwine to shape the future of retail.  We both attended and presented at NRF and the purpose of this blog is to summarize the key take ways for our clients and digital signage solutions ecosystem to benefit – as this is a show that requires an investment on any level to participate. As a digital signage company, our goal was to lean in, listen and then determine key implications for digital integration and what we need to be ready for, to deliver effective solutions for retail and food & beverage in 2024.

The recent NRF 2024 Big Show offered a glimpse into the future of retail through a lens of innovation and adaptation. Here, the convergence of cutting-edge technologies like AI, IoT, and advanced analytics with customer-centric strategies was evident, underlining how retailers are not just responding to changing market dynamics but are actively shaping them. The event showcased how digital transformation, sustainability, and personalized experiences are becoming the cornerstones of retail go to market and connecting with shoppers in new and improved ways. From interactive in-store technologies to the rise of retail media networks, the NRF Big Show served as a platform for industry leaders to discuss and demonstrate the strategies that will define retail in the years to come, reflecting a sector that is resilient, agile, and continuously evolving in response to the needs of the modern consumer.

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The State of Retail 2024: Highlights

One of the key takeaways from NRF is the undeniable impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in retail. AI presents both a challenge and an opportunity for retailers. While its rapid advancement may cause apprehension due to a lack of specialized talent, its potential to revolutionize the industry makes it impossible to ignore. This sentiment encapsulates the broader theme of the conference: adaptation and innovation are not just options, but necessities for retailers.

In addition to the import of AI, NRF showcased the fact that a seamless integration of digital and physical retail experiences is more relevant than ever. Kohl’s experience with Amazon returns and Walmart’s app updates, including the AI-driven checkout-free shopping at Sam’s Club, exemplify this trend. These initiatives not only enhance customer convenience but also drive foot traffic, marrying the physical and digital worlds in a way that benefits both retailers and consumers.

NRF 2024 also highlighted the 'Phygital' concept – the fusion of physical and digital elements to enhance customer experiences. This approach is about making physical items like shoes, shelves, and screens more interactive and integrated with digital technology. It's a strategic blend that demands early and thoughtful consideration to ensure that customers receive a seamless and unexpectedly delightful experience. This is not a new concept for digital integrators but one that continues to be dependent upon what happens behind the walls, to make the experience stable, and customer facing over the longer term.

The NRF highlighted a successful holiday season with a sales growth of 3%-4%, reflecting a sustainable growth rate and the industry's resilience post-pandemic. This growth signifies the sector's adaptability in meeting consumers' heightened expectations for value and seamless experiences across various shopping channels.

However, the future of retail isn't without its challenges. External factors like geopolitical conflicts, challenging elections in the United States, and the Federal Reserve's interest rate policies will play a crucial role in determining new investments from real estate to capex decisions like store renovation. Retail CEOs emphasize the importance of precise execution in this dynamic environment. As Matthew Shay of the NRF suggests, the ability to adeptly balance these factors will determine success in the rapidly evolving retail landscape.

The state of retail in 2024 is one of transformation and resilience. It's a sector driven by technological innovation, adapting to changing consumer behaviors, and navigating complex economic landscapes. Retailers who can effectively harness these dynamics will thrive in this new era of retail.

New to the Big Show: The Foodservice Innovation Zone

The 2024 NRF Big Show's Foodservice Innovation Zone was a hub of future-facing trends and technologies shaping the food service industry. From AI-driven predictive analytics enhancing customer engagement and inventory management to the implementation of robotics for operational efficiency, the innovations presented highlighted a significant shift towards a more integrated, tech-forward approach in food service. This convergence of technology, sustainability, and customer-centric initiatives marks a pivotal moment in the food service sector, indicating a future where efficiency, innovation, and customer satisfaction go hand in hand. Here are some of the key findings:

AI-driven solutions: The show spotlighted Standard AI's cutting-edge AI solutions, moving beyond autonomous stores. Their zone monitoring capabilities, integrated with ceiling cameras, offer a deep insight into customer behaviors, tracking movements and purchases. The predictive AI solution is a step further, anticipating shopper actions to enable targeted, real-time promotions and alerting staff about potential losses or low inventory. This predictive capability empowers retailers to proactively adjust their strategies and understand the impact of merchandising changes in advance.

Frictionless checkout experiences: Mashgin showcased its AI and computer vision-powered self-checkout systems, now enhanced with Keyo's biometric palm-scanning technology for contactless payments. This partnership mirrors the Amazon One palm-scanning solution, offering a seamless and quick payment process. This innovation is particularly beneficial in high-traffic environments like corporate dining facilities, cafes, and retail stores, where reducing checkout time is crucial.

Smart Cart technology: Easy Shopper's smart carts are a leap forward in shopping convenience. With two versions – a clip-on style for existing carts and a fully equipped smart cart – these carts integrate technology to facilitate the shopping process. Features like in-store navigation, advertisement displays, and recipe suggestions transform shopping into an interactive experience. The integration of the Easy Shopper app with loyalty programs and barcode scanning streamlines the checkout process, making shopping more efficient and enjoyable.

AI as a collaborative tool: The conference emphasized AI and robotics as augmentative tools rather than replacements for human staff. In the restaurant industry, this approach allows for the reallocation of staff to more customer-focused roles, enhancing service and efficiency. Robotics in food service are increasingly seen as partners that enable human staff to focus on providing better guest experiences.

Innovative payment solutions: The collaboration between bartaco, Amazon Pay, and OneDine demonstrates innovative payment solutions aimed at improving the customer dining experience. This initiative simplifies ordering and payment processes, addressing common industry challenges like legacy POS systems. The success of this initiative, evidenced by positive customer feedback and high survey responses, highlights the importance of smooth operational execution in the face of rising operational costs and labor shortages.

Emphasis on secure systems: With the growing integration of IoT and digital technologies in retail, the importance of securing these systems was a major focus. Innovations in networking, like the adoption of 5G, private cellular networks, and Wi-Fi 7, are driven by the need for speed and security in massive IoT deployments. This shift highlights the industry's commitment to protecting customer data and ensuring reliable, safe digital experiences.

Drive-thru technology: A significant focus was on drive-thru technology, showcasing how advancements are streamlining the customer experience. Innovations included ordering boards that use technology to display menus, enhancing sales and improving customer experience, order accuracy, and flow. Solutions like LetzChat offered translation in 104 languages, facilitating accurate order-taking in any language. Additionally, Par's packaged drive-thru solution integrated POS systems, headsets, and drive-thru order management and payments, illustrating the comprehensive approach to modernizing drive-thru services.

Within the Food Service Innovation Zone, we demonstrated our commitment to transforming the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) sector using cutting-edge technology. We brought this to life on the tech stage, with an exhibit that was an immersive, connected drive-thru experience, designed to revolutionize how customers interact with QSRs.

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The exhibit included both exterior and interior digital menu boards, which are key to the modern QSR experience, offering flexibility in menu display and promotions. The exterior boards serve drive-thru customers, showcasing menu items, deals, and promotions in a visually appealing and easily changeable format. The interior boards cater to walk-in customers, enhancing the in-store experience with dynamic content and interactive options.

The content displayed across these digital installations was tailored to reflect the unique branding and menu offerings of these chains, showcasing our ability to create bespoke digital content that aligns with the brand identity and marketing strategies of their clients.

The Foodservice Innovation Zone at NRF 2024 underscored a transformative era in the food service industry, marked by technological innovation, sustainability, and enhanced customer experiences. These trends signal a move towards more integrated, intelligent, and customer-centric service models, shaping the future of food retail.

The Rise and Importance of Retail Media Networks at NRF 2024

NRF shed light on the burgeoning significance of retail media networks (RMNs), a trend reshaping the retail and advertising landscapes.  For the first time ever, advertisers will be able to reach shoppers at the same or greater scale as they once did with televisions, at comparable CPMs, yet utilizing first party data for messaging specificity.

By harnessing customer data, RMNs enable retailers to deliver highly targeted, contextually relevant ads, enhancing both customer engagement and brand visibility. The discussion at NRF 2024 also focused on how these networks are evolving to bridge the gap between online and in-store experiences, reflecting a more holistic approach to consumer interaction and marketing. Here’s an overview of some key trends that pertain to Retail Media Networks, for which our team participated in the day-long session on Saturday, January 13, to listen and learn from industry greats in data science, shopper marketing, and experience design, to name a few.

In-store trends: One of the most striking in-store trends is the integration of digital displays and interactive touchpoints. These technologies are being used to create personalized shopping experiences, engaging customers with targeted product recommendations and promotions. This evolution in in-store marketing reflects a blend of physical shopping with the precision and analytics-driven approach of digital advertising.

Shifts in advertising tactics and strategies: Retailers are moving beyond conventional advertising by utilizing RMNs to deliver more relevant, personalized advertising. This shift is grounded in data analytics, where retailers analyze consumer behavior and preferences to serve tailored ads. It's a move from mass marketing to a more individualized approach, maximizing the impact of advertising spend.

Using data to target customers: The heart of RMNs lies in the rich customer data that retailers possess. This data, encompassing purchase history, browsing patterns, and preferences, enables retailers to offer highly personalized ad experiences. For instance, a customer frequently buying pet products might see ads for new pet food brands or accessories, making the ads more relevant and effective.

In-store as the next frontier for RMNs: While online has been the primary playground for RMNs, in-store is rapidly emerging as the new frontier. The reasons are twofold: First, in-store shopping still accounts for a significant portion of retail sales. Second, technological advancements have made it possible to replicate online advertising’s precision in physical stores. Through digital signage, interactive displays, and mobile integration, in-store RMNs can deliver personalized, timely ads to shoppers as they make purchasing decisions.

Bringing RMNs back to the main floor, we were able to demonstrate how content and advertising can effectively coexist across various retail contexts within our booth exhibit showcase. This exhibit not only showcased digital signage but also transformed it into an interactive and dynamic experience for relevance to all audiences, from retailers and vendor partners alike, bringing to life how digital technology can elevate visual merchandising by converting traditional retail spaces into vibrant media channels.

RMNs are transforming the retail landscape by marrying data-driven insights with personalized advertising, both online and in-store. This evolution not only enhances the shopping experience for customers but also opens new avenues for brands to reach audiences more effectively. NRF 2024 highlighted that the future of retail advertising lies in leveraging these networks to create meaningful, engaging, and highly targeted marketing experiences.

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Big Takeaways from the Big Show

NRF 2024 vividly illustrated the transformative power of digital technologies in retail, with a special emphasis on digital signage as a pivotal component. The event underscored how digital innovation, particularly in signage, is revolutionizing both the food service and broader retail sectors.

It was reassuring to see how well digital signage plays a role in providing engaging, dynamic content and facilitating seamless customer experiences, as evidenced by a range of our ecosystem present at the event, from Bright Sign to Blue Fin, Elo to CDW, Sony to Stratachase. These innovations present new opportunities for targeted advertising and revenue generation, and the primary reason we were there: to show how a digital signage integration company with a strong software backbone and programmatic layer can help better monetize and transform the retail store into a mega media outlet.

The NRF 2024 Big Show served as a clear indicator that the future of retail and food service will be heavily influenced by the strategic implementation of digital signage, integrating technology with customer engagement to create more responsive, efficient, and profitable business models.

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