An NRF Retrospective

As the annual retail pilgrimage to the Jacob Javits Center draws to a close, I started wondering if anything has changed since last year. As I met with Forrester’s retail clients during the show, it was clear that this is no longer just a brick-and-mortar show. The retailers I met with had all sent a delegation of cross-functional executives, including the CIO, COO, CMO, SVP of eCommerce, and head of store operations. These leaders are no longer working in organizational silos: they know that they need to find technology solutions that meet the needs of today’s digitally connected customer, not the needs of their legacy channel-centric business units. I was impressed at the way these retailers are embracing and executing on agile commerce.

On the expo floor, the same theme was abundantly clear. NRF has evolved to become a retail commerce show, not just a retail technology show. Joining the incumbent store systems and POS vendors were all the enterprise eCommerce solution providers, order management vendors, system integration firms, and digital agencies. Whereas last year was all about mobile, with hastily developed prototypes and lots of vaporware, this year the expo floor was a place more grounded in reality. Strategic relationships were abundant, with vendors realizing that customers are demanding integrated solution suites that go far beyond the scope of their own product portfolio. As I did my rounds of expo floor booth visits, executive briefings, and product demos, here’s what I found:

  • Order management takes center stage: As Forrester has previously discussed, order management systems are critical to the realization of retail supply chain and fulfillment flexibility. As retailers embrace ship from store, ship to store, pick up in store, and many other complex fulfillment scenarios, they are quickly realizing that order management systems are crucial to enabling this. Furthermore some retailers are making their OMS the system of record not only for inventory visibility but for pricing, offers, and transactions across all channels.
  • Mobile POS has grown up: 2012 was undoubtedly the year retailers piloted mobile POS. However, as we move into 2013, the maturity of solutions on the market has come on leaps and bounds across both the incumbent POS vendors and point solution providers. Mobile POS is no longer an experiment; it has gone mainstream with a clear ROI. In 2013, I expect retailers that have yet to make the jump into mobile POS will bypass the pilot phase and go straight to vendor selection and nationwide rollout. The conversation has shifted from if, to how and how quickly.
  • Android is taking the fight to iOS: Last year I don’t recall seeing a single Android-based mobile solution on the expo floor. It was all about iOS. This year, things were different. The number of Android-based mobile POS and clienteling tablet solutions increased dramatically, and the integrated nature of the hardware (scanning, swiping, EMV, security, extended battery life, connectivity) may just be the icing on the cake needed to topple the virtual monopoly iOS has in the store environment today.
  • The vision of a single commerce platform is still a distant dream: A handful of forward-thinking retailers speak openly about their vision for a single commerce platform, serving their digital and brick-and-mortar channels. The reality however is that the vendor community just isn’t there (yet). While some vendors have been building (or acquiring) comprehensive retail technology suites that include eCommerce, order management, POS, workforce management, and supply chain systems, for the most part these are legacy systems built in an era where channels reigned and that are now integrated to work together. The result is a high degree of functionality duplication (think pricing, offers, product catalog) that is becoming increasingly hard for retailers to manage.
  • The mobile wallet hype is just that: If last year’s shiny object was mobile POS, this year’s was the mobile wallet. As I stood watching a mobile wallet demo from a major retail solutions vendor, the resounding lack of value prop for both retailer and consumer struck me like falling brick. The consumer experience was overly complex and seemed so much more awkward to use than the good old leather wallet. Furthermore, the value prop for the retailers is still missing. My hope was that the digital wallet would facilitate the connection of dots between the digital world and the physical one, but yet it would appear that tapping your phone at the checkout is currently confined to payments and ignores the important stuff like loyalty and the facilitation of digital receipts. My colleague Denee Carrington reaches a similar conclusion in her recent mobile payments forecast report.
  • The ‘Omni’ tag is back with a vengeance: I felt like Marty McFly - it was like I had gone back to 2007 again. Almost every vendor I spoke to had an ‘Omni commerce’ tag line plastered across their booth and marketing material. I couldn’t help thinking the vendor community needs to stop spelling out the obvious. We know that consumers don’t care about channels and that retailers need a single view of the customer life cycle across touchpoints. So why all the Omni marketing speak? My guess is that the vendors want to make it clear to their prospective clients that they ‘get it’ - that their solutions cater for transactional scenarios across channels. My take is we can ditch the ‘Omni’ term and just start calling this what it is - commerce.