Retail

Looking back at NRF, and the New Infrastructures on Show: Edge computing and 5G

If there was any doubt about a renewed focus on retail infrastructure, this was dispelled at NRF’s Big Show 2019 , and this has become even clearer in the weeks following. As we traversed the floors and booths, there were many conversations to be had around AI, IOT, “frictionless commerce”, and other “store of the future” technologies that digitally determined retailers are deploying in order to transform their physical consumer touch points.

This digital transformation requires a solid foundation, and retailers are coming to the realization that retail infrastructure can no longer be ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and has become a strategic asset. Retail infrastructure was even more visible and prominent this year than at past NRF events.
Some of our key take-aways from conversations with retailers, vendors, and other attendees at the NRF Big Show 2019 include:

  • A new, and arguably overdue, focus on next-generation infrastructure was evident from the start of NRF with Verizon’s 5G Lab event on the disruptive power of 5G in retail. While 5G is rolling out in phases, retail use cases are still emerging, and the costs of 5G are still a big question for retailers, the technology’s disruptive power was evident in the 5 use cases demonstrated.
  • While cloud continues to be a key foundational technology for retailers, and dominates many conversations at NRF as always, cloud conversations this year were more often in the context of an overall infrastructure strategy that included the nuances of such things as virtualization strategies, and edge technology. Google Cloud in particular had a strong presence at NRF as it sees a unique opportunity to compete with Amazon Web Services (AWS) in the retail space.
  • Edge computing is proving to be a hot topic, and while many retailers continue to think of this as futuristic, conversations at NRF indicated that the understanding of edge is maturing, particularly with the growth of SD-WAN and other smarter technologies being deployed within the limited IT spaces of most stores.
  • Retailers are realizing the necessity of moving from legacy infrastructure technologies to infrastructure that enables a more software-defined store, and in-depth infrastructure conversations were heard in the booths of Aerohive , AT&T, Cisco, DXC, Nutanix, Veea, and Verizon.
  • While larger more established vendors continue to introduce new and better technologies to improve the checkout experience, there are emerging vendors in the cashierless (aka checkout-free or automated checkout) space vying with Amazon Go . As evidence of the increasing visibility of checkout-free (aka cashierless) retailing, both Zippin and AiFi were prominently seen at NRF. The rise of the cashierless store concept – as well as the digital store – are bringing more attention to computer vision and shelf-sensing technologies. Vendors at NRF were guarding their technologies with widely varying amounts of stealth; some vendors inviting us in for a close look, while other vendors were not providing any information or close examination.
  • Robotics was even more visible across the show floor this year, reflecting growing interest across the supply chain as well as for in-store use cases.  While adoption is still very much opportunistic, we were (almost literally) tripping over robots in booths at NRF.

Robert Eastman is Research Manager, IDC Retail Insights. Learn more about Robert’s infrastructure and Retail Technologies research at idc.com/retail .

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