Why CES matters to retail and what I’m looking forward to in 2019

December 6, 2018By Behind the Shelf Blog, Future of Retail

By Shawn Theesfeld, application development manager

Many who follow technology trends – and those who don’t – have heard of CES, the premier technology showcase event put on by the Consumer Technology Association annually in Las Vegas. Even if you’ve heard of it, you might be unaware of why it’s important for retailers, brand and category managers, in-store fixture and display manufacturers, and ecommerce managers to become familiar with what happens at CES.

For the past several years, I’ve attended CES to see what’s emerging in AI (artificial intelligence), mobile, software, and overall technology trends. During this time, an interesting evolution has started to emerge. More and more products and software platforms are being showcased for use in the retail environment.

New products and technologies for retailers are being featured every year, including experiential displays that draw consumers in, ways to track and monitor consumer engagement, digital representations of endless aisle and service offerings, conveniences with grab and go, and much more! Imagine if a brick and mortar retailer was able to accurately measure shopping patterns to the same degree and accuracy as their online counter-parts and competitors? Well… the technology to make this happen is getting closer every year, every day, every CES!

CES is a smorgasbord of small-startups, venture-capital backed initiatives, large established companies showcasing their new innovations (or repackaging old ones), and technology enthusiasts soaking it all in. All of these technology trends become inter-related through time as integrations become the norm and society’s expectation and utilization of technology progresses. Regardless of one’s primary role in their company, understanding where innovation is occurring is important to supporting your customers. These innovations can be found every year at CES.

Over the past few years, 3D printing was huge as rapid prototyping became a necessity, not a wish; health and fitness was a focus as more consumers wanted to take back their health monitoring and personal wellness; AR and VR (Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality) ebbed and flowed as technology caught up with the ideas; and IoT (Internet of Things) keeps expanding as automation and detailed metrics become the norm for consumers and business alike.

At the upcoming CES in January 2019, I’m looking forward to viewing the progress that has been made in interactive displays and seeing how technology has caught up with the content needs. One of the issues I’ve seen with a lot of the interactive deliverables (VR, AR, holographic displays, etc.) is that the content is clunky; there’s not enough of it or it’s difficult to extract from the experience in a quick manner. Nobody wants to spend an extensive amount of time interacting with a kiosk, digital display, or AR/VR goggles and not feel like they’ve gotten anywhere with their purchasing decision. That comes down to content delivery in a lot of respects, and also striking a delicate balance between strong product information and “clutter.” How do retailers introduce “high touch” experiences, not “high clutter?” They do it via technology and innovative displays that can respond to consumers’ personal needs.

Personal shopping is also a trend on the rise and I’m eager to see what the technology companies presenting in this space at CES have. While online e-commerce sites are usually great at providing suggestions based on past purchases and browsing history to provide useful suggestions to meet needs and interests, traditional retail has yet to find a way to mimic this automated function in person. In order to provide a similar experience in-store, the data captured (and created) has to be more detailed, real-time, and responsive to the individual shoppers’ actions. Consumers will get out of their pajamas and go to the store, but only if it offers a better experience at shelf then they can have at home online. Having a digital catalog at shelf alone isn’t going to cut it. In-store engagement needs to respond to the shopper’s personal needs. I’m excited to see how the technologies to support this have progressed over the past year.

If you want to get down to the nuts and bolts of retail operations, there are a lot of new technologies that are streamlining systems, reducing operating costs, and providing better customer experiences. Blockchain isn’t a buzzword anymore, it’s progressing in its uses and applications of this platform are coming to retailers. In order to have secure data that’s monitoring shopping patterns, inventory, and other shopper data points, one has to look at how blockchain is being used and understand when it’s important to look at incorporating this into your information technology systems. Another area of operational impact is self-service, POS, and rewards integrations. Self-service systems rely on having accurate product images and content as well as good data integration. This data has to be cleanly translated between online systems and in-store systems if a retailer wants to allow shoppers to efficiently cross shopping channels. I’m looking forward to seeing where these new technologies will be integrated into legacy systems retailers and suppliers have already invested in.

Another technology that can reduce operating costs and improve the customer experience is the incorporation of smart chatbots, both online and in store. How have these progressed as AI development and tools have become easier to use? What creative ways are technology companies incorporating chatbots to use individual shopper data and connect that back to product level information? Chatbots are great, but the data that drives them needs to be more detailed and at a personal level of detail, not merely a fancy FAQ section on a website.

One of the greatest things about CES is that literally thousands of companies exhibit and present their leading-edge solutions in these spaces. The challenging part is getting through the noise and deciphering what is a genuine trend and what isn’t. However, determining what new technology trend is suitable for retail experiences, shopper analysis, or supply chain efficiencies is vitally important in today’s new retail reality. That’s why anyone in any part of the retail supply chain must pay attention to what is featured at CES every year.

Hope to see you at CES in January!