Blog | January 16, 2014

What Retail VARs Missed At NRF 2014

By Mike Monocello, editor-in-chief, Business Solutions magazine
Follow Me On Twitter @monocello

BSM-Retail Fronts2

NRF wrapped up the other day in NYC’s Jacob Javits Convention Center. The event drew an estimated 30,000 attendees from all over the world. Amidst the 500+ booths, I was on the lookout for the information and news that would matter most to retail VARs. Following are some of my notes from the show:

Outside-the-box Thinking — I’m sure every exhibitor on the floor could tell you how or why they have some new innovation that will reshape the industry. Most are just buying into their own marketing hype and are self-delusional.

After walking the 205,000 sq. ft. floor repeatedly for two days, I’m most impressed with Star Micronics and Epson. Yup, two companies that are known most for their printers. Not exactly sexy POS peripherals, but consider that these are two companies that stood to be greatly affected by the changes taking place in retail IT. Rather than bury their heads in the sand, they took control of their own destinies and did some pretty radical things.

For example, Star was showing off its new small format cash drawers. Yes, you read that correctly, cash drawers. According to Star’s Christophe Naasz, an increase in mobile POS deployments led to retailers seeking small footprint cash drawers. Star reached out to cash drawer manufacturers who replied that they tried small drawers and they didn’t take. Not sure how long ago that was, but maybe demand has changed. At least, that’s what Star is banking on. They have three cash drawer models, 12-inches x 14-inches, 13-inches x 17-inches, and 16-inches x 17-inches.

Star is also doing some cool stuff with wireless. They unveiled their new ProxiPRNT which uses a beacon to add proximity sensing to their printers. With this setup, a store associate can freely roam a store and their in-hand tablet will automatically sense the closest printer and switch to it on the fly. Now that’s convenient and it gives VARs a reason to recommend retailers buy a whole bunch of receipt printers to stash around their stores. Of course, they also have their DK-Aircash, which is a cash drawer add-on (for their cash drawer or anyone else’s) that gives the drawer Wi-Fi capability.

Finally, Star had a bunch of ISV partners in their booth showing off some of the capabilities of the company’s AsuraCPRNT, an all-in-one device containing a printer and small touch screen display that is designed for kiosk and customer engagement applications. This is similar to Epson’s Omnilink in that Star basically took what was a simple receipt printer and added a small computer (and touch screen in Star’s case) that can drive powerful applications. The majority of the ISVs there had apps dedicated to customer engagement. Expect a future article going more in-depth on the apps. For now, here's Star's PR on everything they showcased at NRF.

At last year’s NRF, Epson unveiled Omnilink and had a handful of ISVs showing off a host of cloud apps. This year, Epson had 14 ISV partners on hand, and many were showing off the full computing power of the DT version of the Omnilink printers. That is, full-blown applications running directly on the printer.  Again, expect a future article going more in-depth on the apps. For now, read "Epson Showcases Range of POS Applications on OmniLink DT-Series."

Without Software, NRF Is Just A Showcase Of Metal & Wires — The best exhibits at NRF were made effective by including the thoughtful designs of ISV partners. I already talked about Star Micronics and Epson above. Without their ISV partners, I’m not sure I could have imagined what AsuraCPRNT and Omnilink were capable of. The same goes for companies like Motorola, Panasonic, and Zebra who had ISVs front and center so the companies weren’t just showing off a piece of equipment, but a solution.

For example, Panasonic had its IP video cameras connected to software from two different partners. Without the software, I’d be staring at a mounted video camera and picturing surveillance footage you commonly see on the nightly news of a convenience store robbery. With the software, I was able to see facial recognition happening in real time and could see just how powerful IP video cameras can be and how they can be used for more than identifying a bad guy after the fact.

Customer Engagement & More Customer Engagement — Nearly every booth had some solution that helped keep customers in the store and make their experience more fulfilling. Seems to me that this should have always been important, but for some reason people were acting like this all of a sudden was a new and great idea. Okay, I know a big factor is B&M retailers having to compete with the Internet retailers. Regardless of the reason, engagement and positive experience *are* good ideas and there are some great solutions coming to market.

A word of caution to retail IT VARs who only want to sell POS units: customer engagement solutions aren’t driven by a POS unit. If your customer is looking for engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty, you’d better be willing to sell services and solutions that include tablets, VoIP, wireless access points, mobile computers, business analytics, ecommerce, and more.

If you aren’t a close-minded VAR, you can easily see how great the opportunity is to sell all these technologies to your customers.

I’d like to end with one of my show Tweets here, which does a good job of summing up this opportunity and the others I saw at NRF 2014: “SYNNEX' Adnon Dow estimates $170 billion to be spent on retail IT in North America in 2014. #VARsGetSome!”

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