By Frank Beard
LAS VEGAS - To witness the latest developments in consumer technology, look no further than CES. The annual event draws more than 182,000 attendees to 2.7 million square feet of exhibit space across Las Vegas. What happens at CES doesn’t stay in Vegas—it defines new trends and influences what we talk about for the following year.
To learn more about the takeaways for fuel and convenience retailers, I reached out to two representatives of Conexxus: Linda Toth, director of standards, and Ann Zecca, manager of membership and administration.
As many readers know, Conexxus is a non-profit, member-driven organization with the mission to solving unique technology challenges facing fuel and convenience retailers. From knowledge sharing and the creation of standards to networking events and advocacy, they’re an indispensable resource for everyone in the industry. Toth and Zecca are also CES veterans who know what to look for.
Here are three highlights from our conversation.
1. 2019 is the year of AI and 5G
Although the phase “artificial intelligence” is now used rather loosely, the fact remains that true AI is a game-changer—especially when it comes to personalization.
One benefit is being able to identify consumers in a general sense and deliver relevant promotions, explains Toth. Especially if retailers have smart displays.
“Think about it. If you have a camera and an Internet-of-Things enabled smart display, then you can figure out who’s walking into a store and create an on-the-spot marketing campaign. We know the majority of energy drinks are sold to men. If I know a man is approaching my store, then I can deliver advertising for an energy drink geared towards that particular person.”
Indeed, Walgreens recently began testing “smart” cooler doors that do exactly this. The technology also tracks what consumers look at to inform advertisers if their digital door promotions were effective.
But what about 5G? As Toth explains, the move from 4G to 5G will bring about an “always on” environment. 5G speeds are reported to be as high as 20Gb/s, and shorter wavelengths than 4G will allow for approximately 1,000 more connected devices per meter. This means less latency and disruption.
Of course, data security remains a major concern—as do the potential human biases that may be inadvertently programmed into AI.
Says Toth, “If you’re using facial recognition in a way that impacts a person’s life—like software that flags a person because they’re on a wanted list, or just identifies them as potentially problematic—it should be up to a person to make the final decision on what action to take. It’s a balance of humanity versus the AI capabilities.”
2. Beyond Retail, Technology Developments Are Changing the Way We Live
From plant-based burgers that taste like the real thing, to a fully automated bread baking machine, CES 2019 showcased many forward-thinking innovations that are sure to influence retail and foodservice.
But many of the products impact us on a more personal level. Zecca was particularly impressed with the pet products. Consider, for example, the stress of leaving your dog at home while you’re at work. Wagz created a door flap that activates by a tag on your dog’s collar—enabling controlled entry and exit to your home. They also use the same technology to eliminate worry with an automated feeding system. And if your dog is bored, the Laika pet monitor rolls around and follows your dog with hours of entertainment and the occasional treat.
For Toth, new robotic developments were the real standouts. From robots that detect if an elderly person falls—and call emergency services—to a smart suitcase that follows you around at the airports, many labor-intensive tasks are now being made simple.
“LG also displayed a demo of its HomeBrew system,” says Toth. “You can buy prepackaged capsules to make your own beer. Just press the start button and it’s ready a few weeks later. I’m sure this is on every guy’s Christmas list this year.”
3. The Fourth Industrial Revolution Is Upon Us
The fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres has been referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). For those unfamiliar, see this recent three-page report from Conexxus. It reviews the key developments and trends.
“This new technology is changing how we live and what we do,” explains Toth. “It all ties together: AI and machine-learning, big data, 5G. Connexus is currently working on a technology road map in conjunction with NACS. We presented it last year at the NACS Show, and we will continue to update it annually.”
Consider blockchain, for example. It has enormous potential to help the supply chain if we block out the noise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. So how can that be leveraged, and what does it mean for retailers?
“We need to collectively come together as an industry to figure out this new technology,” says Zecca. “This isn’t a situation where one entity will figure it out by themselves. We really have to pool our resources, and that’s where Conexxus comes into play with our road map and initiatives. We’re a neutral forum where retailers can come together.”
Retailers who want to stay ahead of these trends are invited to attend the 2019 Conexxus Annual Conference in Nashville, TN.
Frank Beard is a speaker, writer and industry advocate who serves as an analyst/evangelist for convenience store trends at GasBuddy. Beard regularly contributes to NACS Daily and NACS Magazine. Follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.