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    NRF’s Big Show Hits the Big Apple

    Future of workforce, innovation explored at annual conference.

    By Don Longo, Convenience Store News

    NEW YORK — Retailers from across the globe gathered in New York City this week for Retail’s BIG Show 2017, the annual innovation and technology conference of the National Retail Federation (NRF).

    This year’s show, held Jan. 15-17 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, featured keynotes on the future retail workforce from such major retail figures as Walmart US CEO Greg Foran, HSNi CEO Mindy Grossman, Macy’s Chairman Terry Lundgren, and Ashley Stewart CEO James Rhee.

    Other noted speakers included Virgin Group founder and serial entrepreneur Richard Branson and legendary New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer.

    As in past years, the show included a heavy focus on technology, with exhibitors showcasing a myriad of innovative solutions to help retailers more efficiently connect with consumers. “Smart Retail Solutions,” “Streamlined Currency Management,” “eCommerce Made Easy,” “Unified Commerce,” and “The Connected Consumer” were among the many buzzwords and expressions on display at the 240,000-square-foot expo that featured more than 510 exhibitors, plus Exhibitors Insights sessions.

    Here’s a selection of what solution providers were showing that has application for the convenience store industry:

    APEX SUPPLY CHAIN TECHNOLOGIES

    Kevin Duggan, senior global communications executive with Apex Supply Chain Technologies, showed how one of his company’s automated dispensing lockers could be used by a c-store to safeguard high-value, theft-risk products like cigarettes.

    Every device is custom crafted to a retailer’s exact specifications. Specializing in “click-and-connect” technology, the Apex see-through lockers are also used by consumers to pick up small or large packages that are bought and paid for in advance.

    “Consumers love the convenience of ordering online and picking up their purchase at the store,” said Duggan. “It saves shipping costs. They get what they want right away and no one needs to be home to receive the parcels. And they don’t have to wait in line to pick up their purchase”

    The automated dispensing lockers are flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of merchandise in a variety of indoor and outdoor locations.

    CASHMASTER

    Gordon McKie, chief executive of Cashmaster International, addressed the popular opinion about a “cashless” society where plastic cards and mobile apps replace cash. “While cards and other electronic payment methods have increased, the use of cash has not decreased,” McKie said. The U.S. Federal Reserve predicts cash will grow an average of 1.7 percent per year from 2012 to 2022.

    At the NRF Show, Cashmaster introduced a new cash-management application that gives retailers more real-time visibility of their cash. Cashmaster Connect is an innovative, new application for use with the company’s newest count-by-weight cash-counting scales, called Cashmaster One.

    Cashmaster Connect gives retailers a simple way to record cash-count data from tills accurately and efficiently in a matter of seconds. It allows users to automatically output till counts in Excel format so they can automatically capture important cash data, making financial reporting easier and more accurate.

    McKie said the new application is currently being offered on a free 6-month subscription to the first 500 subscribers.

    INCONTEXT SOLUTIONS

    InContext Solutions, a leader in virtual reality solutions for retailers and manufacturers, demonstrated its HIVE (hi-immersion virtual experience) at the NRF Show. A demo at the show transported users wearing googles (a head-mounted display) into a virtual store environment where they interacted with products, shelf sets, store layouts and in-store displays to create a more engaging shopping experience.

    “While VR (virtual reality) is continuing to gain hype in consumer applications, it also provides critical decision-making power and insights to retailers and manufacturers,” said Tracey Wiedmeyer, co-founder and chief technology officer of InContext Solutions.  

    The company recently began working with Intel to merge its VR software with Intel’s hardware to bring shopping solutions to a variety of clients including Walgreens and 7-Eleven.

    NCR

    The NCR booth was busy demonstrating a number of omnichannel digital engagement technologies for customers both inside and outside the store.

    NCR Optic, a pay-at-the-pump solution unveiled at last year’s NACS Show, allows customers to purchase food and other products sold inside the store from the outdoor gas pumps. Most recently, NCR partnered with Speedway to begin installing these terminals at the Ohio-based retailer’s nearly 3,000 locations. Rutter’s, the 66-store, York, Pa.-based c-store chain, is also utilizing NCR’s Optic pay-at-the-pump ordering solution at its newest stores, according to Matt Miller, who heads up global solutions management for petroleum and convenience retail.

    NCR also showed off Pulse, a smartphone app for real-time monitoring. Pulse uses predictive services and Big Data applications that provide real-time knowledge, and future models that allow for rapid response by retailers.

    In addition, Roger Walker, strategic product manager for the food, drug and mass-merchandise retail systems division, showed Retail ONE, NRC’s omnichannel platform that unifies the shopping experience across all touchpoints, improves data security and customer privacy, while reducing fraud.

    “Retail ONE ties together all the different touchpoints with the consumer,” noted Walker.

    PETROSOFT

    Petrosoft introduced Retail360, a cloud-based solution designed to streamline retail back-office operations. Retail360 leverages existing data, while providing the flexibility to enrich retail operations no matter how complex the business model or how geographically dispersed the company’s operations.

    “Retail360 filters, organizes, validates and disseminates retail operational information from a variety of sources to a variety of retail industry stakeholders, providing operational insights whenever and wherever they are needed,” said Sergey Gorlov, CEO of Petrosoft. “This solution addresses the roadblocks that normally leave retailers at a disadvantage, no matter how simple or complex the retailer’s operation, as they attempt to communicate and compete within today’s retail ecosystem.”

    Retail360 helps automate workflows; manage retail price books; manage promotions, inventory, lottery and loyalty programs; manage accounting, cash management, forecasting and reconciliation processes; centralize chain and franchisor management; and integrates with industry retail solutions, suppliers, financial systems, and partners.

    Gorlov, who also operates Market 24, a chain of 20 convenience stores in western Pennsylvania, emphasized that Retail360 is designed for all types of retail operations.

    REFLEXIS SYSTEMS

    Reflexis Systems made an announcement at the show that creates a new type of partner — the Developer Partner. This extends partners the ability to develop and market applications that complement the Reflexis platform of workforce management and real-time store operations solutions.

    Reflexis also announced the first approved and certified Developer Partner is Nextenture, a long-time integration and implementation services partner.

    The new Developer Partner complements other Reflexis partner categories: Solution, Services, and Channel. Developer Partners have access to Reflexis solutions and APIs to build complementary solutions and extend services to solve specific business problems. Nextenture Help Desk Pro for Reflexis Suite and Nextenture eLearning for Reflexis Suite add additional value for retailers in their solution support and training processes.

    In another separate announcement, Reflexis and Pricer partnered to integrate the Pricer electronic shelf label system (ESL) and its automatic product positioning solution with the Reflexis StorePulse real-time store operations platform. The integrated solution, demonstrated at the show, enables retailers to increase efficiency in a variety of in-store processes that directly impact the customer experience.

    With one solution, store associates can receive auto-generated and prioritized tasks (based on real-time notifications from any system), and locate products immediately on the shelves to perform inventory control, omnichannel fulfilment, recalls, and other processes. Associates can also update back-office applications in real time using mobile devices. All in just a few clicks.

    VERIFONE

    Verifone, the $1.8-billion revenue processor of half the world’s payments, unveiled a new family of next-generation smart payment devices that will be piloted next month.

    Serving eight out of the 10 top retailers, Verifone recently announced an agreement with Alipay, and partnerships with Google, Apple, Visa, Intel, Samsung and Vantiv.

    Jeff Wakefield, Verifone’s vice president of sales enablement, also spoke about the pace of EMV adoption — progressing well inside the stores, but still looming as a costly investment at the pump for fuel retailers — and advances in developing the software and support for a mobile wallet when consumers are ready. “Our goal is to make payments magical,” he said.

    Verifone and FIS, a leader in financial services and payment technology, also announced a collaboration that enables consumers to pay with loyalty points linked to their credit or debit cards at the point-of-sale. Verifone Points Redemption connects to the FIS Premium Payback Network to provide a quick, secure and easy way for third-party loyalty programs to participate.

    Merchants will be able to download the free app to their device from the open, cloud-based Verifone Commerce Platform. Eligible cardholders only need to swipe, dip or tap their card at a participating retailer in order to pay for their purchases with points.

    The FIS Premium Payback Network currently supports loyalty points redemption at thousands of gas stations nationwide for 8.5 million consumers from 3,100 banks. Last fall, the company entered into a partnership with BP, adding 9 million cards to the program.

    “For consumers, it turns reward points into a new form of currency and from the retailer’s perspective, the exchange is interchange-free and creates new foot traffic,” explained Cassie Boutelle, vice president of loyalty programs for FIS. Indeed, BP has seen a 2.85-percent increase in traffic from competitors’ sites in the past six month, according to Boutelle.

    The objective is to increase the value and usability of loyalty points, added Cynthia Knowles, vice president of market integration.

    WORKJAM

    Workjam Chief Operating Officer and co-founder Joshua Ostrega spoke about the digital workplace platform’s global partnership with Shell, deploying a new employee engagement suite in Shell’s convenience stores across 17 countries.

    “At the end of the day, it’s all about creating the digital workplace,” said Ostrega, as he demonstrated how easy the new app-based platform allows for seamless communication among and between workers and managers for an array of tasks from communicating schedule changes to improving training — all easily accessed by a smartphone or tablet.

    At the show, Workjam also unveiled the latest version of its software service with the addition of Task Management. The platform now includes full integration with existing back-office systems in tandem with standalone capabilities to provide a seamless, real-time, digital employee experience covering scheduling, schedule execution including the broadcasting of open shifts, communication, training and operational tasks.

    “It enables retailers to reach the last mile of workforce management and bridge the gap with customer engagement,” said Ostrega.

    By Don Longo, Convenience Store News
    • About Don Longo Don Longo is editorial director of EnsembleIQ's Convenience Store News. He has covered retailing for more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. Previously, he spearheaded the editorial efforts at a variety of business publications focused on mass, drug, grocery and specialty store retailing. Convenience Store News won American Business Media’s Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Issue of the Year in 2008 and 2012. Longo has won numerous other editorial awards over his career and is frequently quoted in the national and local news media on the subjects of retailing and consumer trends.

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