NACStech attendees use data to track consumer thinking.
A Fixed Point
Predicting the future is more about setting a fixed point on the horizon and aiming toward it, said Michael Rogers, a New York-based technology author and futurist, in the conference’s closing session. “You may not get there directly,” he said. “But it’s somewhere to shoot for.”
Rogers, who used to be a columnist for The New York Times, said five trends are developing: Consumer devices appearing “everywhere,” wireless becoming ubiquitous, intelligence in “the cloud,” digital standards, and digital “personalities.”
With all types of devices, wireless connectivity and standards accelerating the adoption of technology use, change will happen quickly, he predicted. One of the examples he spoke of was futuristic eyeglasses (joking of Apple’s future “iGlasses”) that when worn would overlay digital information before the eyes of users. He envisions people with these glasses walking along with their hands in front of them, manipulating the digital options before them.
He also spoke of supercomputers housing enormous amounts of data, with one experiment in particular involving medical information. In that test, a virtual physician in a corner drug store could conduct an initial diagnosis for a walk-in customer.
The Tech Event
At the close of the conference, NACS officials announced that NACStech will merge with the annual meeting by industry standards group PCATS.
The new show, The Tech Event, will take place in May 2013 and feature “more focused educational sessions, networking time and a different format for suppliers to showcase their products and services,” said Hank Armour, president and CEO of NACS, Alexandria, Va. “Next year, the power of NACStech will double as we merge our industry’s two biggest tech events into one. The Tech Event is another step in our seamless integration of PCATS under NACS.”
Prior to this announcement, PCATS held its annual standards-focused meeting in January. Its content has typically been working sessions surrounding software protocol, integration and data-security concerns. Time will tell how that will blend with the NACStech meeting, which has adopted an educational bent tied to a sizable trade show.
On the trade-show floor, numerous vendors showed how c-store technologies appear to be melding, adapting to consumer demands and retailer needs:
- Dispensers Absorbing Technology to allow for mobile-phone payment. Austin, Texas-based fuel-pump manufacturer Wayne announced near field communication (NFC)-enabled readers that allow consumers to pay, present loyalty cards and redeem offers with the wave of a smartphone. Tied to its iX Pay Secure Payment solution, the modular, in-pump device supports mag-stripe contactless, Euro MasterCard Visa (EMV) contactless and NFC mobile-payment programs.
“Contactless and mobile-payment technologies are going to help retailers provide their customers tremendous value and incentives, as well as attract new customers with their differentiated offerings,” said Tim Weston, Wayne North America product manager. “With the emergence of contactless payments and NFC technology on smartphones, Wayne is … offering this technology as part of our innovative secure-payment solution.”
- Integrating with “the Cloud.” Kirstetter of KSS Fuels said even the smaller players are trying to develop customer-relationship management (CRM) intelligence as a way to stand out. To do so, many are opting for solutions based off-site, in the Internet’s “cloud.” The company provides analytical services that help retailers better understand consumer demand, competition and the effect of changes on local markets. It quantifies factors influencing how and why consumers shop certain locations, highlighting how location, facilities, merchandising, competition and other retail attributes combine to influence purchase decisions.
- Multiple Options. Plano, Texas-based Retalix brought many technology elements to the site level, with products such as self-service kiosks and mobile-phone technology that allows payment via “the cloud.” Brad Prizer, vice president of global marketing communication, said its solution is assisting Framingham, Mass.-based Cumberland Farms and its mobile-payment program.
- Network Management. Growing from strictly processing payments to managing a retailer’s entire data-transfer network has been the path for Plano, Texas-based Heartland Payment Systems, according to Bill McCollough, executive director of petroleum. The evolution was a natural one, he said, explaining how a critical development was moving from dial-up to digital. Heartland had always offered payment processing, but the technology evolution “was like building a six-lane highway with only one car going up.”
Another important trend was cost, in that bandwidth along the information superhighway grew as costs dropped. As a result, so-called “managed networks,” or services that build and monitor electronic networks, are gaining in popularity, said Dirk Heinen, CEO of Acumera Inc., Austin, Texas. With more and more companies competing for retailer business, customer service can be a differentiator, he said.
Other networking companies are evolving. Dan Glennon, senior vice president of marketing and strategy for Cybera, Franklin, Tenn., said his company is focusing on network security, providing solutions via the cloud.
- EMV Experience. As security becomes more of a concern for retailers, network providers must address evolving security issues, according to Pat Polillo, vice president of sales for AJB Software, Mississauga, Ontario. That includes including EMV, a technology that many of its Canadian clients have already adopted.
- Data Integration. Consumers today are looking to integrate loyalty with pricebook information, trying to figure out what’s working well, according to Chris Kiernan, director of retail applications for ADD Systems, Cranston, R.I. Retailers often can’t access data that’s coming off their devices, “They know the data exists and they need to find it,” Kiernan said.
- 3-D TV. A three-dimensional TV shown at the booth of KickBack Rewards System, Twin Falls, Idaho, on the trade-show floor lengthened the viewing time of the average customer from 5 seconds to up to 90 seconds, say booth officials. Displayed images showed rotating bottles of beer and cartoon airplanes seemingly floating in front of the TV screen.
- Device Integration. Integration between devices—such as POS registers and display signs—and advancing technologies for mobile payment and cashier upselling will continue, said James Hervey of VeriFone Systems Inc., Clearwater, Fla. In addition, data movement and access to it has become a priority for retailers, said Aaron McHugh, division director of PriceAdvantage from Skyline Products, Colorado Springs, Colo. Compliance with data-security mandates has brought the industry to a place where data manipulation from a variety of devices, including price signs and POS, will be standard, he said.
- Bill-Stacking Safe. A “stacker bag” for safes, which stacks notes into a plastic deposit bag, was a feature from Tidel Engineering, Carrollton, Texas. A heat-sealing mechanism packages the money, creating a cost savings for retailers, according to Ed Grondahl, executive vice president of global sales. A new removable door in that model allows access to validator heads, helping employees clear jams and cutting down on service calls.
- Item-Level Transition. Movement to item-level tracking is helping retailers create efficiencies and get a more hands-on feel for what customers want, said Melissa Fox Hadley, retail solutions manager for The Pinnacle Corp., Arlington, Texas. “The big thing is to get people within the [retail] chain on board,” she said. “Discipline is needed to track item-level movement.”
Retailers are focused on controlling costs in a very competitive environment, said Bruce Bates of PDI, Temple, Texas. Along with other exhibitors on the trade-show floor, he suggested retailers take a very hard look at item-level inventory. “The sessions offered at NACStech pertaining to this topic were well attended,” he said. “PDI is well positioned to offer its customers the technology base to support this … way to [better] manage the store environment.”
Retailers today stand at the cusp of a commercial revolution, Rogers said. He told the story of Russian author Leo Tolstoy, who at an old age was able to view an early silent film. Rogers said Tolstoy regretted that he was unable to take advantage of this new way of storytelling. Referring to today’s technology, Rogers said, “This is our challenge; it’s happening on our watch.”