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NRF '18 Musings: What Comes First, the Analog or the Digital?

Over the past few years, much of the talk surrounding technology strategies for hospitality has been how to enable digital touchpoints. These conversations centered on the concept of allowing the increasingly connected consumer to interact with a brand whenever and however they chose to do so.

At the recent NRF Big Show, which took place January 14-16 in New York City, there is a new sentiment permeating technology providers – and that is making in-store experiences as much like the online experience as possible.

This is a subtle, but nonetheless remarkable shift to behold as I noted similar messaging at numerous booths: creating a digitally seamless interaction for guests while they are physically in a store. Yes, we’ve talked about providing digital experiences – I’m not stopping the proverbial presses for that newsflash – but this is different. This is making the concerted effort to provide guests at a physical location with the experience they would have sitting in front of a computer or holding a device – making offline experiences more like the online experience.

What is that, Neo? You want me to take the red pill?*

Companies from all corners of the show floor were highlighting solutions to achieve this analog meets digital experience. Just a few examples….

Samsung Connected Spaces, an all-in-one Pop-Up store solution that gives brick-and-mortar retailers a platform to create a Pop-Up store infused with data collection and analysis capabilities. Samsung Connected Spaces delivers an Internet of Things (IoT)-ready solution that provides retailers with data and insight on key store factors – including customer traffic, dwell time, and demographics (age & gender) – that can be measured for specific times and areas in a store. According to a press release from the company, “Bringing digital best practices to in-store environments enables retailers to shed light on data darkness and create a model for smarter business decisions.”


Meanwhile at IBM, the company was showcasing solutions that foster two-way conversation with guests and technology in-store. The company introduced technology that boasts visual recognition and natural language understanding capabilities specifically made for the fashion industry. The solution gives consumers the ability to search and discover new products based on image similarity. Consumers can shop by asking natural language questions or via a trending lookbook from Pinterest.


Cisco is focusing not only on the digital journey for the customer but for the associate as well. The company transformed its own toy store, ToyBox, a fully functional retail store. A variety of technologies helped showcase the outcomes that digital technology delivers. Beginning the journey on a mobile phone, "shoppers" got to use an interactive map to find their pre-chosen wish list items in the store. Thanks to RFID & QR codes on items, they were able to scan and add the items to purchase. Digital screens and advertisements changed based on shopper's proximity, thanks to facial recognition, and the checkout line was as smooth as walking through with scanned items already paid for through the app.


Facial recognition also was making waves at the NEC booth. On display was Caliburger’s loyalty kiosk that ties transactional data to facial recognition, to identify guests, pulls up loyalty point info and even favorite orders to enable quick and easy ordering.

* The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television.

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