By: Jim Roddy, President & CEO at the RSPA
After NRF’s Big Show 2022 was broadsided by the omicron COVID variant, I felt compelled to campaign for optimism about the event and the retail IT industry (NRF 2022 Analysis: 1/5th of a Show > No Show at All.) After this year’s NRF 2023, held Jan. 15-17 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City, no PR campaign is necessary: retail is back, and Big Show attendees are raving about the event and the near-term future of our industry. Among the comments executives shared with me:
- “Attitudinally, this place is hopping”
- “Surprisingly well-attended”
- “Fear about a significant economic downturn is an overreaction”
I engaged in 200+ conversations in New York, and nearly every company (at least 95%) told me they experienced a strong 2022 and are bullish about 2023. Most were taking an increasingly aggressive stance for the upcoming year; not one planned to “batten down the hatches.” Why? The prevalent sentiment was retailers need us.
Retailers are struggling with labor … technology can solve that. Consumers expect a seamless buying experience across channels … technology can solve that. Stores want an elevated customer experience to differentiate from online shopping … technology can solve that. Are you sensing a theme here?
I laughed out loud as I typed my final “technology can solve that” because I’m writing this blog post at a food court at the newly renovated LaGuardia Airport in New York, awaiting my flight home from NRF. “Food court” probably isn’t the most accurate term; “stylish eatery” and “sleek shopping center” is a better description. The centerpiece of the area is a programmed waterfall/water show featuring music, lights, and holographic images. While walking from the airport entrance to my gate, I interacted with state-of-the-art kiosks, scales, digital signage, touchscreens, and scanners.
For years, travelers avoided LaGuardia due to a lack of amenities (to put it nicely), but after spending time here, I’d rate it as the most attractive and most convenient airport I’ve ever flown through. I think those in charge of LaGuardia got sick and tired of the jokes and thought to themselves … technology can solve that.
When many told me NRF’s 2022 nightmare would cause permanent damage to our industry, I pushed back, and 2023’s Big Show proved me right. At the risk of hubris, I’ll make this prediction: the retail IT industry will enjoy a strong 2023 because retailers need us.
A few other thoughts from NRF 2023:
- The phrase I heard most often in the expo hall was “software platform.” ISVs are building out impressive solutions that cater to the needs of the niche markets they serve. Even when I met with hardware manufacturers, they frequently highlighted the capability of the software it was running. To see evidence of the RSPA’s continued growth in the software sector, check out our newly-released RSPA Software Developer Ecosystem chart.
- It was interesting to see the NRF’s Food Service Technology Pavilion located in a back corner on the lower level of Javits. Despite the less-than-prime location, the activity was high there whenever I visited. I talked with RSPA members exhibiting there, and they were very happy with the traction. The RSPA’s definition of “retail” has always included restaurants – 80% of Retail Solutions Providers Association members work in hospitality – so I was happy to see the inclusion of the food service sector.
- Several vendors showed me their machine vision solutions, technology that uses cameras to immediately identify items at the point of service. IT providers who rely on bar codes need to pay attention to this trend – and adapt their offering before the technology passes them by.
- I wore a surgical mask for the duration of the show because I didn’t want to catch a cold (or worse) before traveling to Hawaii for next week’s RSPA Inspire leadership conference. I was one of the very few with a face covering. By my estimate, only 1-2% of NRF 2023 attendees covered up.