Supply Chain Station’s review of NFR 2015

This year’s national retail federation has just been held in New York, focusing on the retail industry which is one of them main drivers of global supply chain activity. Throughout the show again this year (as with 2014), the emphasis was very much on the impact of computing in the cloud, and also reaching out further into the mobile marketplace. All new software applications of any significance are now both cloud based, and support the new mobile technology. It all helps to make finding solutions to problems and situations that much faster.

Monitoring shopper behavior

Something that many vendors at the NRF were advocating strongly was the new technology being employed to count shopper traffic, and to study the behavior or shoppers when they enter the retail establishment. The latest technology is being driven my facial recognition videoing, and mobile phone activity.

The growing impact of omni-channel selling

Another high profile event at the NRF was the deployment of Omni-channeling – the methodology that seeks to create a universal awareness in terms product availability across a variety of different channels. From a supply chain point of view, it was being suggested that there may be some sort of segmentation needed in order to promote Omni-channeling to the next level.

Auto-monitor stock by video

One particular company (namely i3) demonstrated a new video product that allows inventory-checking to be automated. It means that when any item on a shelf is running low, or actually runs completely out of stock, a warning message can be sent out so that corrective action can be taken. It’s a great example of how new technology is being utilized to speed and facilitate stock control.

Electronic labeling

Electronic shelf labels could be set to make more of an impact in the near future. Displaydata, (a company that is active in this market), has a system of electronic shelf labeling that will enable retail stores to change the price structure of an entire stores-worth of products in just 20 seconds. But from a supply chain point of view, what is perhaps more interesting, is that this same technology is now being used by some manufacturers to facilitate a kitting program whereby electronic labeling can be used to indicate what, and how many of an item or items, need to be picked and can even provide the picker with a photograph or illustration of said item(s).

Multi-scanning

In terms of POS and scanning at the checkout, DataLogic demonstrated their new start-of-the-art scanner technology whereby many items can be scanned simultaneously, rather than having to be passed individually across a reader, bringing some real speed benefits into the equation.

Zatar technology and the Internet of Things

Zebra technologies demonstrated their new Zatar system that is designed to work with the IoT (the Internet of Things). This technology creates a likeness of a product from apps in the cloud and allows that likeness to be introduced into new environments.

Zatar is a new common platform that permits the seamless sharing of devices and the data streams, which means that potentially everything that is shared (it can be networked too) becomes actionable data/information, enabling real-time collaboration.

Advance analytics applications

Applications using advanced analytics were also a feature of NFR 2015 as exhibited by Manthan, one of the world’s leading producers of advanced analytics, business intelligence, optimization and analytics-powered applications for retailers and the consumer industry. In terms of pre-supply chain functionality, the new advanced analytics technology enables many more factors, statistics and variables to be taken into account. Rather than a historical approach, advanced analytics also provides predictions and prescriptions in terms of recommended actions in defined situations. These applications also have the ability to learn over time, based on actual events that take place, after prescriptive recommendations were implemented.

Brick is the new black

Bal Dail the CEO of JDA Software Group gave a keynote presentation entitled “Brick is the new black.” The theme of the presentation is the fact that conventional stores in the real world are still very much the cornerstone of retail activity. Despite all of the hype regarding online shopping, omni-channeling, computing in the cloud, and the Internet of Things, 78% of shoppers still go to stores, and when they do so, they spend 6 times more cash than online shoppers do. 95% of all sales still take place in stores, built, as Mr Dail put it, in bricks and mortar

Mr Dail went on to say that in a smarter omni-channel world we need smarter stores, but beyond improved product visibility, better distribution of labor etc. stores will need to think about how they can improve the shopper’s in-store experience, especially in view of the new omni-channel progression.

JDA announced a coming together with IBM to provide better analytics and applications in a omni-channel world, taking IBMs capabilities in terms of IBM’s distributive auto-management capability and marrying it up with JDAs intelligent fulfillment capabilities, (warehouse systems, transportation and logistics, demand and fulfill, and in-store productivity), with a view to helping retailers to find the most profitable way of fulfilling orders.

The latest in RFID

Several companies exhibiting at NFR 2015 were displaying RFID systems capable of reading ID tags over large areas. The problem at the moment is the large amount of hardware that is necessary to make this work effectively, but it is something that is sure to develop in coming years.

What was apparent in terms of new RFID technology is the availability of hardware and applications that can accurately read the tags of mixed products on pallets and conveyors in double quick time providing improved picking and distribution accuracy.

Advanced barcode embedding

Digimarc, the digital watermarking technology provider, were showing a new generation of bar coding that uses a special type of ink. The small size of the barcode, plus this special ink, makes the barcodes invisible to naked eye. It means that the codes can be printed invisibly onto all surfaces of the packaging, making scanning so much faster and easier.

No big leaps forward – just a few small steps – but all in the right direction

NFR 2015 was well visited, building on the number of visitors it attracted last year. The overall perspective however, was that there was nothing revolutionary on view; just a number of small improvements on existing platforms and applications, but all leading in the right direction.

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