NRF 2023 Recap: The era of AI has arrived for retail

NRF 2023 Recap: The era of AI has arrived for retail

Neal and Fractal team at NRF

With NRF 2023 concluding this past Wednesday, the retail industry is buzzing from exciting discussions, informative keynotes, and the numerous displays of the latest innovations and solutions for retailers around the world.  

Neal Analytics and Fractal partnered with Microsoft this year to showcase our solutions at NRF , and took the opportunity to explore the expo room floor, gaining insights into where the retail industry is trending. We have four key takeaways to share, all of which can be summed up in one sentence: The era of AI has arrived for retail.

Key takeaway #1: Vision AI has hit mainstream 

Vision AI has been an exciting, but tricky, technology to effectively implement for many years now. Training vision AI models can be time consuming, and the resulting use case, limited in scope. That said, we have successfully implemented vision AI in numerous use cases over the years, including in our StockView for retail and Missed Scan Detection solutions, as well as for a quality control use case for Cheetos 

With that said, the value of vision AI was clearly evident at NRF. While providing an accurate estimate of the number of vision AI solutions at NRF is tricky, the number was significant – vision AI solutions were so ubiquitous that even organizations that are typically thought of as hardware providers (such as NCR) were demonstrating vision AI solutions. In spite of the number of these solutions, it seems that many companies may still be exploring the use cases they wish to support as the overwhelming majority of them focused on people detection (as opposed to object or product detection). 

Key takeaway #2: Demand forecasting and marketing personalization is coming to the forefront of retail 

The value of using machine learning to improve the accuracy of forecasts and personalized marketing campaigns and content has been known to Neal Analytics and our parent company, Fractal, for several years now, but it appears the rest of the retail industry has caught on. While we have leveraged machine learning to improve the accuracy of demand forecasting and automate personalized marketing for clients for years, numerous new products and solutions have appeared promising to improve forecasting and marketing campaign results. 

With all of the new solutions promising improvements in marketing campaign effectiveness and forecasting accuracy, it may become even more difficult for organizations to determine which is best for them. To help clients in their decision process, we have offers designed to help determine which solutions will work best for their unique use cases. Contact us to learn more. 

People visiting NRF event booths

Key takeaway #3: Omni-channel fulfillment is becoming increasingly productized 

Omni-channel fulfillment is not a new topic, in fact it’s been very popular in retail for several years. Streamlining customer interactions and enabling frictionless order fulfillment so that customers can order and receive their purchases however they want not only leads to happier customers, but additional sales. Omni-channel fulfillment solutions allow customers to make purchases online then pick orders up from a local store within a few hours instead of requiring them to wait for orders to ship to their home. Conversely, they can allow customers to make purchases in physical retail locations and have the purchased product shipped directly to their home from a warehouse or other retail location. 

While omni-channel fulfillment solutions aren’t new, what is notable is the sheer volume of offerings now available. More to the point, while many previous omni-channel fulfillment solutions were custom built on cloud platforms by consulting firms like Neal Analytics and Fractal, a significant portion of the new solutions are third-party SaaS products. 

Key takeaway #4: AI startups and the metaverse 

The last key takeaway from NRF relates to the startups and company demonstrations in the NRF Innovation Lab. Since startups are very frequently striving to seize upon an emerging market opportunity, they can often be a good indicator of where the industry is going. 

Many of the startups at NRF 2023 featured AI solutions that fall into the previous categories, but several featured solutions and technologies that were relatively absent on the main expo floor: robotics and the metaverse. Robotics use cases frequently leveraged AI in conjunction with hardware to enable use cases like automatically sorting product and putting it in its correct place in store backrooms or warehouses. Metaverse solutions, on the other hand, appeared to mostly focus on enabling retailers to provide customers with the ability to interact with their brand in VR. 

This isn’t to say that only startups featured solutions relating to robotics or the metaverse, but that the proportion of them was significantly greater than on the main expo floor. We believe this indicates that leveraging robotics and the metaverse will become increasingly common for retailers around the world.  

Curious about any of our key takeaways or interested in learning more about the solutions we discussed in this blog? Contact us and we will be happy to answer any questions you might have.