Editor's Note: A Few Thoughts From NRF

This past January, as I’ve done for the past five years or so, I trekked into New York City’s Jacob Javits Convention Center for the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Big Show. I was met, as I was in past years as well, by retailers from around the world. I spent time at this year’s conference attending presentations and press conferences; meeting and interviewing retail industry execs in the press room; and walking the vast exhibit hall floors trying to find the “next big things” in retail technology. Here are a few of my takeaways from the event:

1. Technology is being used to improve the in-store customer experience. I’m not sure if it’s the “Amazon effect,” but brick-and-mortar retailers are continually searching for ways to create a more compelling in-store experience, and more and more vendors are offering them the technology to do just that. For example, I learned about technologies that rely on retailers’ Wi-Fi networks in tandem with shoppers’ mobile devices to deliver more personalized promotions to those shoppers in-store. I also saw a plethora of mobile point-of-sale solutions (POS) designed to enable staff to check out customers anywhere in a store, thereby cutting down the time shoppers must spend waiting in checkout lines. Lastly, I heard about a variety of in-store kiosks and iPad apps designed to allow sales associates and customers to access product catalogs or check out stock levels while in-store.

2. Data security is top of mind. It’s likely this wouldn’t have been as hot a topic a few month ago, but the very public Target data breach this past holiday season, followed by news of the Neiman Marcus breach, which hit the wires during the show, made retailers sit up and take notice of the privacy and security of their customers’ personal data. While PCI compliance has always been a priority for retailers, almost everyone I spoke with at the show about the topic agreed that they’re being asked to take a fresh look at the data security measures they have in place.

3. Retail tech labs are trending. While the concept of retailers starting technology labs where they can experiment with new tools and technologies has been around for a while, the topic came up in several discussions I had with retailers at the Big Show. Retailers such as American Eagle, Home Depot, Nordstrom, Staples, Target and Wal-Mart have all opened tech labs over the past two years to create mobile and social apps as well as other technologies that will enable them to reach their goal of being true omnichannel retailers. Keep on the lookout for more retail tech labs popping up in 2014.

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