National Retail Federation “Big Show” 2024 New York
By Tom McCole
It is that time of year when merchants have hopefully celebrated a prosperous holiday season and it’s off to New York for the NRF annual exhibition and conference. The event hosts 35-40 thousand attendees from around the world to see what new trends and technologies are available to enhance their future operations and bottom lines. The NRF also attracts 1000+ exhibitors all seeking to educate retailers about all the new ways to increase operational efficiencies and processes in all facets of their businesses.
To that end, the NRF garnered a plethora of world-class speakers covering a wide spectrum of topics and perspectives. Walmart’s CEO, John Furner, Martha Stewart, Magic Johnson, and Drew Barrymore led the speaker list with dozens of other retailers, tech experts, and other industry leaders.
The dominant theme of the exhibition was….wait for it….AI. What are the chances? Seemingly every booth had AI in their banners, on their displays and anywhere there was available space. Every sales pitch on the floor began with our AI solution merchants can (fill in the blank). I am sure it is all true with the usual suspects; Google, IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, and the other tech biggies, but not so much by some of the smaller vendors. Please don’t think me a Luddite, but the hype reminds me of early dot-com euphoria as well as the end-of-the-world as we know it forecasts of Y2K. AI near-term offers the same joy/fear polemic emotions.
Aside from AI there was no shortage of interesting technologies: Voyix, formerly known as Prince, I mean NCR, displayed a fascinating new self-checkout solution that uses cameras to identify products instead of barcode scanning. The camera resides high above the counter and captures the image and pricing. If the product is not in the image file, the unit has a barcode scanner to capture the item and price.
The NRF added a new and impressive Foodservice Innovation Expo featuring famous foodie speakers, Jon Taffer from Taffer’s Tavern, celebrity chef, Robert Irvine, from Restaurant Impossible, and Chrystal Kung Minkoff, from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The Expo featured a real version of Taffer’s Tavern serving food and drinks.
The Foodservice area also displayed Middleby’s new commercial kitchen automation featuring a french fry robotic device along with their PizzaBot that makes fresh Pizzas in mere minutes.
Real-world grocery shopping cart technology was also on display and coming to grocery store near you. Several e-cart vendors displayed their approach to modernizing the grocery store experience. Pentland Firth Software from Munich, Germany wowed the attendees with their Easy Shopper cart automation featuring recipes, ingredients, calories and in-store item locations, a scale for produce, and payment acceptance.
The consensus of attendees and exhibitors interviewed both agreed that this is an exciting time to be in retail automation and value creation for the industry at large. The retail customer experience will meaningfully improve near-term with the implementation of these new technologies as well as AI as it evolves.
The NRF “Big Show” was clearly a success on every level. However, sloshing through the wet snow to get to the Javits Center, one might suggest Miami as a more ideal locale next year. Just saying!
Tom McCole is a veteran payment technology executive and business development consultant based in Atlanta. [email protected]