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NRF Exhibitors Are Rooting for Supply Chain Digitization in 2019

Dozens of exciting new technologies created buzz at the National Retail Federation’s 2019 Big Show this year, from in-store inventory management tools to advanced digital printing capabilities.

Executives and experts on the NRF expo floor this week were particularly optimistic about one thing: they believe this will be the year retailers finally move out of siloed processes and embrace the true digital ecosystem.

Bob Meixner, director of product strategy at Oracle Commerce Cloud, said he’s hoping that 2019 is the year retailers finally move en masse to contemporary product management platforms and websites, and integrate next-gen tech into the shopping experience. Currently, he said, customers are often forced to choose between a legacy retailer with lots of choices, but limited digital capabilities, or a smaller company with useful mobile tools but a smaller product selection. 

“There’s a patchwork of legacy systems in retailers’ tech, which causes numerous technological and process-based workarounds to pop up,” Meixner said. “This puts traditional retailers back on their heels compared to digital and cloud-native competitors, not only in customer experience but also in the talent they can attract and retain to solve the problem.” 

But he doesn’t think that market split will last long, and neither do his peers.

Digitization should be a commodity this year,” said Fernando Castillo, managing director and co-founder of quality and compliance SaaS provider Inspectorio. “The main thing differentiating companies will be whether they’re taking a networked, dynamic approach to their supply chain.”

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Tim Chiu, senior vice president of CBX Software, said many retailers think they’ve reached a reasonable place in updating their supply chain management, but that almost all of them need to keep going to satisfy customers in 2019. “There’s still opportunity in digitization,” Chiu said.

To his way of thinking, digitizing will be the best way for retailers to continue achieving the higher revenues from 2018 into a decidedly less certain economy in 2019.

“Retailers can’t control the customer, but they can control the supply chain,” he said. “Especially in the midst of trade war tension, all the back-end communication and relationships with suppliers are the space where companies can improve.” Chiu named sourcing, collaborations with suppliers and quality control as areas where he predicted digitization would have the biggest impact.

Going digital could also open up retailers to all-new tech capabilities, such as augmented reality tools, said Meixner. “We’re finally seeing AR in the hands of shoppers on mobile sites,” Meixner said. That technology, he said, can be a “game changer” for retailers of furniture, home decor and other large home items, in particular. However, he warned, companies need to be able to implement it, allowing consumers to use the technology and make purchases seamlessly.

From AR to AI, Nick Leeper, director of analytics at commerce platform company Aptos, pointed out that digitization of the supply chain is also necessary for retail to realize its full promise. “In short order, the benefit of AI will start to outpace the hype,” Leeper said. “We’ll see analytics and AI embedded into everyday processes, and the utilization of streaming data will allow consumers to realize near real-time results that historically required detailed processing.”

Ultimately, the function and revenue-generating power of new retail technologies will be dependent on companies’ ability to implement them—and that power is vested in the digitized supply chain. “When some companies have an intelligent, interconnected ecosystem, and others don’t, you clearly see the winners and losers,” said Castillo.