By Ed Collupy
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Conexxus’ Innovation Research Committee (IRC) members took to the road once again, this time attending the National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show, along with about 35,000 other people. The mission of the IRC is to identify, research and bring forth new approaches in emerging technologies and related innovations that promise future impact on the convenience and fuel retailing industry.
Years ago, when I first attended, NRF’s Big Show still had vendors selling coat hangers and merchandising fixtures, along with a good-sized presence of technology solution providers. Today, it is all about technology; even those companies whose core product may not be tech-first certainly play up how technology is helping them get to market.
A full afternoon of touring booths kept our core group engaged and on our feet, getting us ready for an evening recap of what we saw and heard. We met other Conexxus members and friends along our way, which reinforced that being at NRF was important to many in the industry. Our 20-minute visits with nine suppliers uncovered innovative and practical solutions to today’s business challenges.
New possibilities for the c-store industry were seen at the HuLoop Automation and Ariadne Maps booths. HuLoop, along with RadiusAI, showed us the power of artificial intelligence in areas such as automating manual and often repeatable work processes and how computer vision technology paired with AI can optimize in-store operational activities. Ariadne demonstrated its technology, which is not dependent on computer vision, an app or networking to provide data analytics and alerts in areas such as people counting and employee scheduling.
The point of sale (POS) for convenience and fuel retailers could begin to look quite different based on what we saw from GK Software, which is about to pilot its solution with a major industry player. Along with Toshiba and Diebold Nixdorf, GK Software recognizes the need to advance POS solutions that the rest of the retail industry has seen for many years—a more open architecture providing for easier integration and the ability to add features and functions faster. More to come in the near future from all of them. NCR, well known in our industry, took us through its Next Generation Self-Checkout and Software Defined Store that is a core part of its solutions moving forward.
We learned about an interesting Internet of Things (IoT) add-on to Logile’s core workforce management solution from its partner, BluLine Solutions, whose devices are currently used by some in our industry. Logile’s food safety module is supported by a former public health inspector and Giant Eagle/GetGo food safety leader, who described how employee expertise and training certifications can be tied to the tasks for which associates will be scheduled and IoT monitoring tied to task management.
IT team members from Lowe’s walked us through how Zebra Technologies’ Modern Store is coming to life for them in operating Lowe’s to deliver a great customer experience, be better for associates and manage inventory. To hear and see it in action from people making decisions based on in-store experiences and feedback they’ve lived through is always more powerful than listening to a sales pitch.
Our small Conexxus IRC group received an insider’s view on the digital transformation of stores thanks to the solution providers we spent time with. The IRC serves as a roundtable of the industry’s best technologists and innovators. It is responsible for leading field trips to centers of innovation to engage with leading investors in new technologies relevant to the industry and defining the ever-evolving technology road map that brings clarity to the fast-paced, and often confusing, changes in the industry’s technology ecosystem.
Any retailer from any functional area in the industry is welcome to join the IRC. The next meeting is March 7 at 2 p.m. Eastern. Conexxus invites industry representatives from marketing, finance and other business-focused departments to reach out to email@example.com to join our efforts in researching and solving for innovative solutions to the industry. Learn more at conexxus.org/irc.
Ed Collupy is the innovation facilitator at Conexxus, which is a nonprofit, member-driven technology organization dedicated to the development and implementation of standards, technologies innovation and advocacy for the convenience store and retail fueling market.