Turning Dreams Into Reality

“Eat, Sleep and Dream Big” is the tagline of the National Retail Federation’s 97th Annual Convention & EXPO set to kick off this month in New York City.

The almost-century-old event was originally created to enable retail executives to analyze post-holiday sales and plan merchandising strategies and purchases for the spring season. Ninety-seven years later, NRF still acts as a meeting ground for industry decision-makers to transact business.

This year’s event, dubbed “Retail’s BIG Show,” will run from Jan. 13 to Jan. 16. Approximately 17,000 delegates, including retail executives, vendors and consultants, will meet at the Jacob K. Javits Center where they will take advantage of a strong educational agenda and an EXPO floor that, according to David Hogan, Washington D.C.-based NRF’s senior VP and CIO, will feature “more exhibitors than last year.”

While retail executives will be seeking out strategies and information-technology solutions to keep their companies as top shopping destinations, the show has a much broader focus than just IT concepts.

“NRF’s annual show addresses every business decision being contemplated by retail executives,” Hogan explained. “While NRF is not considered a technology show, retailers need to contemplate how technology can help them address the bigger picture.”

For example, social responsibility promises to be a hot topic this year. Besides featuring sessions that will reveal how certain companies are proactively becoming stewards of the environment from a merchandise-packaging and store-design perspective, the show will also put a technology spin on the subject.

“Retailers are beginning to [use solutions] to collaborate with trading partners to ensure they are reducing the number of empty trucks on the road. This saves fuel, and mileage,” Hogan explained.

Meanwhile, he anticipates strong interest around risk compliance. “Within that category, PCI [payment-card industry] compliance is an important issue as deadlines are fast approaching,” he said. “It will be interesting to hear how companies are spending [capital] to become compliant in time.”

While these are only a couple of examples of how technology touches every business decision, Hogan reminded companies to evaluate which are the best solutions to meet their needs.

“Companies that are in for the long haul need to determine how to successfully—and smartly—apply systems to improve efficiency, cut costs and get closer to their customer,” he said.

The CIO Forum, on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 1:45 p.m., is sure to touch on many of these subjects. A panel comprised of Michael Jones, Michaels Stores Inc., Irving, Texas; William McCorey Jr., Circuit City Inc., Richmond, Va.; and Bill Homa from Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford Bros. will field ad hoc questions from moderator Rob Garf, VP, retail strategies at Boston-based AMR Research, as well as inquiries from the audience.

Other sessions will highlight how IT can both spark innovation and keep operating expenses down. For example, Kevin Peters, executive VP of supply chain for Delray Beach, Fla.-based Office Depot, and John Bowe, president for North America APL Co. Pte Ltd., (an Oakland, Calif.-based global container-transportation company), will use the Supply Chain Forum on Monday, Jan. 14, to discuss what solutions and practices will streamline logistics and manage expenses across the supply chain.

Meanwhile, the session, “Consumer Centricity: One Size Does Not Fit All,” at 8 a.m., on Sunday, Jan. 13, will feature firsthand accounts from Food Lion executives Charles Davis and Lewis Campbell, describing how they used assortment-planning solutions to tailor merchandise to meet the demand of specific customer segments.

NRF will also help retailers envision how new concepts can work in a live environment. The X08—Beyond the Four Walls of Retail exhibit, which will be located on the EXPO floor, will merge interactive technology and store design. As a result, retailers gain insight into how to interact with consumers on a 24-hour-aday, seven-day-a-week basis.

Microsoft Corp.’s Surface computing solution is sure to be one featured solution. Called the first commercially available surface computer, Surface promises to turn an ordinary tabletop into an interactive exterior that supports digital content.

“This holds a lot of promise for hospitality, entertainment and retail,” Hogan said. “Whether enabling consumers to set a product on the tabletop and place an order for the item, or allowing them to place their NFC-enabled cell phone on the screen to pay for merchandise, Surface holds a lot of potential.”

X08 will also feature new marketing concepts such as holographic displays, as well as virtual touchscreens that can turn a retailer’s traditional store window display into giant e-commerce ordering screen.

Similar to the touch-sensitive “Window Shopping” test that Ralph Lauren embarked on in select markets last year, these virtual windows allow shoppers to point to items on display in a store window, and electronically order the merchandise.

Windows are coated with a touch-sensitive foil, and images are displayed using a hidden projector. “Consumers pick merchandise, input their size and address, swipe their credit card through a dedicated payment terminal, and the order is then shipped to their home,” Hogan explained. “It is a new way to make consumers stop and shop—the key to the store of the future.”