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Straight Talk IT

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At the start of the new year, the US-based National Retail Federation (NRF) hosts its annual Retail's Big Show conference in New York. For many years the event was mainly attended by US retailers, but over the past three years it has seen an ever-greater attendance from retailers across LATAM, EMEA, and APAC. This global retail attendance has increased the importance of the event in the retail calendar for those looking for inspiration and/or confirmation in regard to technology trends that support the changing face of retail business models.

The retail industry, due to its operating nature relying so strongly on consumer engagement, felt the impact of digital transformation before the majority of other industries, which are now taking learnings from retailing in how to approach digital transformation. In fact, Ovum believes that the relevance of the "big themes" from Retail's Big Show provides invaluable insight for how technology can support digital consumer, client, or citizen engagement across all industries.

When Ovum engages retail leaders, we strongly advise that digital transformation should not be thought of as a fixed activity that can be achieved in one project/program cycle. The advent of digital has forced retailers to place the consumer and not products at the heart of driving business growth and profits. Retailers will of course always need to continue to evolve their product offerings, but through a much more consumer-focused lens that is driven by deep and complex data insights delivered to both consumers and employees through digitally driven customer and employee experiences.

While yearly key retail events such as NRF, EuroCIS, and RBTE continue to provide many inspiring insights into the potential technological future of retailing, it is clear to Ovum that for all the announcements regarding IoT, AI, and VR, the core focus to drive digital success must first be to fully exploit business information. However, the initial focus of digital for many retailers in recent years has been on digital customer experience–led technologies across both physical and online retail channels.

Ovum strongly advises our clients that establishing data as a strategic asset, democratizing data and analytics, and refining data into insight are the first foundational steps that must be accomplished to gain business value from digital. It is the data consumed and produced by digital customer experiences that provides the opportunity to gain true competitive advantage, identify new business growth models, and enhance existing operating behaviors to improve profits and consumer engagement.

As in previous years, on the surface the exhibition floors of NRF 2017 focused heavily on customer experience technologies, from mobile-driven end-to-end self-service in a physical store to AI-driven consumer experiences supported by IoT and VR. However, the underlying current across all vendors focused on a clear understanding of the importance of business data in underpinning all the sophisticated technologies delivering new and innovative customer experiences. It is Ovum's opinion that retailers who position themselves to exploit their business information across all retail channels to a per-consumer level will be positioned ahead of their competitors because they will understand not only their customers' journey but also which customer journeys matter most to their business goals.

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