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Key Retail-Tech Themes at NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show—Loss Prevention, Forecasting, Personalization and Associate Enablement

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What's Inside

The Coresight Research team attended NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show in New York City. In this report, we discuss the retail technology providers and solutions featured at the event across four key themes: loss prevention, demand forecasting, personalization and associate enablement.

Companies mentioned in this report include: Impinj, Manhattan Associates, Oracle, Salesforce, SAP, Sensormatic, Toshiba, Workday, Zebra

Other relevant research:

Executive Summary

Coresight Research Insights

  • Loss prevention, forecasting, personalization and associate enablement are essential retail-tech categories that were on full display at NRF 2023.
  • New loss prevention, counterfeit-detection and inventory-management technologies leverage computer vision and RFID (radio-frequency identification).
  • Forecasting is the basis for efficient operations and also has implications for customer and worker satisfaction.
  • Multiple technologies come into play to make associates more efficient, enabling them to spend more time with customers.

What We Think

Tech played a prominent role in NRF 2023, and several key categories—notably, loss prevention, forecasting, personalization and associate enablement—have advanced significantly in the two years since the show was able to take place with full attendance. We consider these four categories essential for retailers in 2023 and beyond.

Introduction

The Coresight Research team attended NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show in New York City during January 15–17, 2023. The annual event, hosted by the National Retail Federation (NRF), brought together retail technology innovators, industry experts, brands and retailers to participate in panel discussions, present on key topics in retail and showcase their solutions.

NRF 2023 marked the return of many leading retail-tech companies to the annual event since 2020, and we were impressed with the progress made in two years (especially in the area of personalization), since many of their retailer customers were in crisis mode during 2020–2021, expanding their online capabilities and dealing with wide swings in consumer demand.

Key Retail-Tech Themes at NRF 2023: Coresight Research Insights

Loss and Fraud Prevention

Loss prevention is top of mind for many retailers amid recent reports of shoplifting and organized retail crime in the media. In its 2022 National Security Survey, the NRF reported that retail shrink had increased to $94.5 billion in 2021, up from $90.8 billion in 2020. We saw several interesting new loss-prevention technologies at NRF 2023, including those outlined below. See our Retail-Tech Landscape on for more on technology providers of retail loss-prevention solutions.

  • Diebold Nixdorf demonstrated its self-checkout terminals, which leverage computer vision for applications such as age verification when the customer is attempting to purchase alcohol or cigarettes. We also saw a demo of an automated coffee machine that uses communication apps such as Meta’s WhatsApp to establish an interactive relationship with the customer.
  • Impinj demonstrated the ability to scan a basket of items to determine the authenticity of items. The company has developed an RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip that has a signature comprising public and encrypted data. The encrypted segment can be decrypted in the cloud to prove product authenticity. We saw an example of a bin of sunglasses, whose RFID chips were read by an Impinj antenna: the display showed which of the items were legitimate and which did not belong. Applications include reducing fraud from the return of items offered by the retailer. In 2020, Impinj demonstrated an RFID chip that can be made invisible—i.e., when a properly purchased item will no longer register on sensors and set off loss-prevention alarms, yet it can be reactivated when an item is returned.
  • Toshiba demonstrated its self-checkout terminals for grocery and convenience stores. The grocery terminals compare prices to expected weights of items in order to prevent price-tag switching and the non-scanning of items, in versions that accept cash or exclusively electronic payment. Some of the terminals include a camera atop the terminal that looks downward to monitor shopper behavior. We also saw small units for convenience stores that enable the customer to pay using facial recognition. The user’s face is scanned by partner PopID, and this biometric data is tokenized and stored separately to alleviate privacy concerns. Terminals in many form factors run on the company’s Elera unified commerce platform, which was launched in 2021 to offer a modern platform that was written from the ground up to escape the limitations of legacy platforms.
  • Sensormatic (a division of Johnson Controls) demonstrated an expanded group of applications and analysis that can be conducted via computer video. We saw the following applications: the use of video to determine threatening behavior by customers, which could then become an alert or a message to law enforcement; the detection of groups of people (such as organized crime gangs) inside or outside the store; and we saw video used to identify store associates versus customers, which can be used for safety and security purposes or to analyze the amount of time associates are able to spend on the floor with customers. In 2020, we saw video used for taking inventory and to identify loitering—i.e., potential thieves who are surveilling the store for future shoplifting.
Aggressive behavior detection
Source: Sensormatic

Personalization and a Focus on the Customer

Technology companies are launching new tools to enable retailers to know their customer better and offer personalized communication.

  • Coveo, an SAP partner and Toronto-listed company that operates an AI (artificial intelligence)-powered SaaS (software-as-a-service) platform, specializes in providing search, recommendations, personalization and merchandise intelligence for commerce, service, website and workplace applications. The company reported $86.5 million in revenue in 2022 (up 33%), and its clients include Acuity, Calera, Healthspan, MAC Cosmetics and Slack (acquired by Salesforce).
  • Salesforce announced that the combination of several recent products enables retailers to target customers in intelligent and accurate new ways. The combination of Salesforce’s CDP (customer data platform, launched in late 2019) and its Genie real-time data platform (announced at Dreamforce in Autumn 2020), which runs hyperscale cloud computing platforms, enable automated customer segmentation and targeting. Separately, the company also announced products for retail media, composable storefronts (which have gained productivity tools and enhancements) and physical stores, as well as a new loyalty management platform.
  • SAP introduced us to members of its Emarsys (acquired in 2020) Customer Engagement team, which differs from its Qualtrics Customer Experience division. The Emarsys team offers personalized, real-time engagements at scale to increase customer retention and loyalty. SAP is known for its ERP (enterprise resource planning) software, which optimizes inventory, production and finance, yet we discussed other platforms including for returns, omnichannel pricing and promotion, and the company’s business technology platform. In addition, the company’s new distribution-center replenishment platform will be launched at the end of the year.

Forecasting Has Become Essential

The current retail environment presents multiple challenges and constraints for retailers, which need advanced tools to operate in a robust and resilient manner. At NRF, we met with a number of companies offering forecasting platforms, including those outlined below.

  • Just prior to NRF, Workday announced that it had added demand forecasting to its Scheduling and Labor Optimization platform. The new functionality uses AI/ML (machine learning) to enable retailers to forecast labor demand based on internal data such as sales and traffic history and from external data such as weather and local events.
  • SAS provided a demo of its demand forecasting and simulation platform. A company representative claimed that its platform is up to 98% accurate, which is way beyond the 90% rule of thumb. The company has also developed a robust simulation platform that uses a digital twin to model supply chain changes (including among suppliers) and determine how changes affect operations and finance. For example, a proposed promotion could seem appealing, but simulation could determine that suppliers have insufficient capacity. These simulations can also be used for stress testing, which could help avoid shortages in challenging periods (such as the pandemic).
  • Zebra division Antuit.ai (acquired in October 2021) offered a presentation and demo in the Zebra booth in addition to its own booth on the innovator floor. The platform incorporates internal data, external data (including purchase data) with a robust modeling and data-cleansing platform to drive demand forecasting, planning, allocation, replenishment and lifecycle pricing. It is logical that this platform will be integrated into Zebra’s other platforms, such as its prescriptive analytics and workforce management (i.e., staffing) solutions.

Diagram of function of Antuit demand forecasting platform

Diagram of function of Antuit.ai demand forecasting platform
Source: Zebra

 

Associate Enablement Is a Hot Topic

The combination of labor shortages and increasing consumer demand for extraordinary service make associate enablement and empowerment more important than ever, and we saw several compelling examples at NRF.

  • Honeywell highlighted a push-to-talk app for Microsoft Teams, which supplements its other worker safety and security solutions, including wearable scanners, full-body harnesses and portable gas sensors.
  • Workday’s Scheduling and Labor Optimization platform enables companies to create accurate and cost-effective schedules that match open shifts with worker availability, skills and preferences. Read our separate report for Coresight Research and Workday’s insights on how technology can address challenges in the staffing of hourly and frontline workers in retail and hospitality.
  • Zebra showed the power of its original handhelds plus its Reflexis (employee staffing) and prescriptive analytics (now called ZPA) acquisitions in a compelling demo. The associate is able to schedule shifts, communicate with co-workers and receive directives from ZPA, all on a single wrist-worn mini tablet. One example comprised an associate adding an item to a curbside shopping cart, which eliminated the need to enter the store to search for and collect the item. The combination of these platforms enables associates to eliminate trips to the back room and spend more quality time with customers. Similarly, we saw a demo of Fetch Robotics robots, which bring items to humans and reduce time walking within a warehouse.

Other Important Products and Announcements

There were several other significant announcements at NRF 2023, including by Manhattan Associates and Oracle:

  • Manhattan Associates is embracing RFID; the company informed us that its Store Inventory and Fulfillment platform is now integrated with RFID. Using RFID enables retailers to identify, locate and track inventory, which boosts inventory accuracy and pricing and has positive implications for customer sentiment. Other functions include the “geiger counter” mode of handheld scanners, which enables associates to quickly find items in the back room, enhancing both associate and customer satisfaction.
  • Oracle announced its Retail Payment Cloud Service, which runs on the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. The announcement is significant, as it enhances Oracle’s leadership in the point-of-sale (POS) segment. The new platform builds on the robustness of Oracle’s Platform for Modern Retail.

What We Think

We saw several significant advancements in retail technology at NRF 2023, which advanced despite urgent retailer needs to expand e-commerce and wrestle with supply chains and shifts in consumer demand during the pandemic. Loss prevention remains a paramount concern for retailers, and forecasting and personalization are essential technologies to coordinate operations and enhance customer sentiment. We also believe that associate enablement is a key, unique competitive advantage of physical retailers to offer service that towers above that of impersonal e-commerce platforms.

We consider the four categories of loss prevention, forecasting, personalization and associate enablement essential for retailers in 2023 and beyond.

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