Tech giants court retailers chasing omnichannel dream, Amazon

At this year's National Retail Federation powwow in New York, technology vendors are using a gloomy backdrop to pitch omnichannel, analytics and the Internet of things as magic bullets vs. Amazon.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Large technology vendors such as Intel, NCR and SAP as well as a bevy of specialists this week are using the Internet of things and analytics to court retailers, which are struggling to meld their brick-and-mortar operations with faster-growing e-commerce operations.

At the National Retail Federation's Big Show in New York this week, omnichannel was a primary focus as digital leaders from Home Depot, Macy's, Barnes & Noble and The North Face are scheduled to speak. Like previous years, the NRF show floor features next-gen technology demonstrations, lots of talk about the Internet of things and mobile tools to go omnichannel.

The economic backdrop for retailers this year is a bit gloomy given most players have seen sales fall due to a warmer-than-expected holiday season, Amazon's e-commerce gains and less traffic in malls. Retailers are seeing growing e-commerce sales, popularity of ship-to-store arrangements and mobile, but that gains aren't enough to offset slowing revenue from their physical locations. EBay Enterprise reported that omnichannel fulfillment volume was up 72 percent during the holidays and ship-to-store orders on Cyber Monday were up 30 percent.

According to the NRF, holiday sales in 2015 were up 3 percent to $626.1 billion. That sum includes online sales and missed the NRF forecast of 3.7 percent.

Those moving parts make tech pitches timelier for retailers, which are shuttering locations and looking for a digital magic bullet. Here's a roundup of a few of the more interesting items at the intersection of tech, retail and the NRF's powwow.

Intel, which has a large retail business that's rolled into its Internet of things unit, announced what it calls a Retail Sensor Platform. This sensor platform aims to combine retail systems with analytics to give real-time operational data that can improve the shopping experience. For instance, Intel's platform is being used by Brooks Brothers to use the chipmaker's RealSense technology to make custom shirts via digital body scanning. Nordstrom is also using size scanning tools. Integrators such as Accenture and Capgemini are also integrating Intel's technology.

Samsung is pitching its tablets, smart signage, smartphones and wearables in a host of retail settings. Of those items, Samsung's smart signage is worth noting. Samsung and partner eyeQ. Video Analytics are using the consumer electronic giant's displays with image sensors that count actual views and sales opportunities. These image sensors also estimate gender, age as well as attention times.

Theatro, which provides voice controlled wearable devices, will roll out tools at outdoor retailer Cabela's to replace two-way radios with wearables that will have person to machine apps for indoor location, inventory review and analytics.

Zebra Technologies outlined a reference design with Atmel to demonstrate smart refrigeration tools. These smart refrigerators would use sensors to monitor temperature and connect to the cloud and Internet of things for analytics.

NCR highlighted its latest release of its self-checkout kiosks. The most notable item is optional software called ScanWatch that detects customers trying to swap items at a when checking out a kiosk. The security software will send an alert to an attendant when someone tries to swap a bottle of wine for something inexpensive like bananas in their bags. The attendant would then verify what was actually in the bag to prevent losses for the grocery store.

Apex Supply Chain Technologies rolled out new lockers that are larger. Locker pickup systems are becoming increasingly popular as retailers are conducting ship to store operations. The smart lockers provide inventory tracking and analytics.

Fujitsu Frontech North America outlined new RFID tags that can be sewn into garments and apparel for tracking throughout the product's life cycle. The RFID tags are nearly invisible, transparent and can be used to prevent counterfeiting. The new RFID tag is expected to launch in the first quarter.


Fujitsu also outlined a series of point-of-sale and checkout technologies and demonstrations highlighting how Microsoft's Band 2 can be used in retail.

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