Marko Salic, ATG Group CEO shares experiences from Global Retail Conferences in the USA – CES (The Consumer Technology Association) and the National Retail Forum (NRF) 2020.
I was very excited at the prospect of visiting these incredible retail showcase platforms hosted annually in the USA. I kicked off my trip at CES in Las Vegas – this exhibition is renowned for revealing next-generation innovations and has been doing so for the past fifty years.
Approximately 4400 consumer technology companies exhibit at this conference, attracting more than 170,000 delegates from 160 countries. It is billed as the global stage for innovation. CES is the world’s gathering place for all companies watching the consumer technologies development space. It certainly proved no disappointment.
New York City hosts the National Retail Forum (NRF) regarded worldwide as The Retail Big Show that aims to assist retailers to attract and retain customers by dazzling them with innovative retail technology and store designs.
There were prevalent and repeated themes from exhibitors at both conferences and I have summarised below some of the most significant ones:
- Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud are becoming the basis of most new products with big names all building specialised retail offerings. SaaS and cloud is the future and the feeling is that anyone not on that bandwagon will be left behind.
- Image and video recognition: There were also a large number of products and concepts based on image and video recognition technologies, in my opinion, most are not yet production ready but enough was displayed to forecast what the future will bring in this space.
- Machine learning was marketed strongly with the main ML/AI themes being the following:
- Forecasting and self-learning algorithms
- Demand, planning, assortment, replenishment
- Customer behaviour analytics and hyper personalisation
- Recommendations, e-commerce analytics, basket analysis, propensity modelling
- Image and video recognition
- Magic mirrors for clothing, shoes and cosmetics
- Automated checkouts, data collection (foot traffic, sentiment, where the customer is looking, crowd analytics, heat maps etc.)
- Artificial Intelligence (AI): Every product seemed to have the words ‘AI’ in its marketing messaging, however, it was interesting to note that when I asked vendors to elaborate there did not appear to be much solid context to prop up the marketing language. This served to endorse my opinion that ATG is further advanced on the AI path than many.
- Workforce Management: This was another prominent focus at the NRF with many suppliers offering products in this domain. It pleased me to see that our group company Ashanti AI with their ML powered Warehouse Workforce Management analytics application is on the right path.
- Self-checkout and self-service: As expected this was well represented, with many retailers in the US already offering self-checkout in their stores. You self: scan, pack, pay and leave. There are fail safes in place, like cameras with machine learning (ML) checking items, weight sensors validating basket against what was scanned etc.
Generally, self-service seems to be big in the USA, European Union and Australia.
- POS Systems: Most of those on display were really just more of the same – some with slightly more modern user interfaces. Again it was interesting to note that nothing outstripped what we have developed at ATG – we are right up there with the global best.
- Interactive screens: My team tell me it takes a lot to impress me but I find this technology exciting. It facilitates the creation of virtual showrooms with 3D models of products, that can be scaled, rotated, and customised etc. I’m sure you can just imagine the great potential for this 4th industrial Revolution (4IR) technology for a range of retail applications including furniture and appliances as well as specialised products such as: smartphones, tablets, jewellery etc. retailers.
- Augmented reality and virtual reality: were also very interesting but as with AI product slogans lacked substantive real life use cases, or were not production ready. However, one of the displays was quite impressive – it was a mobile app that can be used to scan an item like a couch from a printed brochure into a 3D model; then using your app and camera you can overlay the item into your home to see how it will look, including changing of colour, fabric etc. Fantastic tech with great potential.
- IoT for Retail: In this space there were three dominant areas:
- Chat Bots and Voice Assistants: Last but not least, chat bots and voice assistants were well represented with many good use cases in customer experiences and help desk scenarios. This is an area where there appears to be a lot of investment world-wide.
I would have to conclude by saying that contrary to popular belief we – South Africa and specifically the ATG group – are not far behind global technology trends. In general I saw very little that we are not either doing or capable of doing in ATG or SA which was very encouraging. Many of the companies I engaged with on the trip do not have a footprint in Africa and are seeing this as an untapped market.