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Three trends to watch for at NRF 2020

This year, the annual National Retail Federation’s Big Show is titled “2020 Vision,” and there will be some important developments to see.

The show always sets the tone for the upcoming year in retail technology. The buzz on the exhibit floor gives you a good sense of the tech-related conversations retailers will be having over the next 12 months. While hindsight is always 20/20 (pun intended), here are three emerging industry tech trends I expect to play a prominent role at this year’s conference.

The store of the present
The “store of the future” is a perennial topic of conversation at the Big Show. However, with rapid advancements in technologies enabling a frictionless, immediate brick-and-mortar shopping experience, we are really now talking about the “store of the present.” 

Store of the present technologies include solutions that permit customers to walk into a store, grab the items they need off the shelves, and walk out instant or near-instant payment. Computer vision, image recognition, automated shelf sensors, mobile shopping and payment apps, and barcode and QR code scanners can all pay a role in the evolving, consumer-directed brick-and-mortar experience.

However, the store of the present also encompasses technologies such as smart lockers and shelves for automated pickup of online and mobile orders, as well as apps and solutions which provide customers with enhanced access to product information or “endless aisle” inventory.

I, robot
Robots have been a standard attraction on the NRF exhibit floor for a number of years. But retail robots are evolving from cute customer service androids that primarily serve as promotional tools to smart machines that can automate critical workflows across the enterprise.

NRF attendees should expect to see demos of robots that can augment (or even replace) human employees in performance of tasks such as shelf stocking and replenishment, store inventory counting, order fulfillment, cleaning and maintenance, warehouse management, and delivery (more on that in a moment). Most retail robots will not look like something out of “Star Wars,” but will be helping shape industry evolution long after the Skywalker saga has fallen from the public consciousness. 

Get it to me (almost) yesterday
As Amazon and Walmart begin shifting their standard delivery time toward one- or even same-day fulfillment, other retailers will have no choice but to follow. Since most retailers do not have the type of coast-to-coast fulfillment infrastructure enjoyed by these two titans, they need to implement third-party solutions to help close the delivery gap.

Attendees will most likely already have familiarity with highly-publicized delivery automation solutions like drones, self-driving cars, and wheeled robots. Other applications designed to streamline delivery workflows, such as scan-based picking and packing solutions, automated track and trace systems, and real-time smart navigation tools, should be on prominent display.

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