The Retail Industry Roars into 2013

  NRF 2013?  The retail industry is off to a screaming start – roaring out of the gates with new products and some very smart apps.  Apple, not surprisingly, kicked ass, again.   The iPad was everywhere!     Although this year I was not subjected to desperate cries of “it’s not ruggedized and therefore can’t be used in retail”  from paranoid industry competitors.   No sir, this year EVERYONE had a solution that ran on the iPad. 
     Based on what I saw,  2013 is about the tablet, and about mobility, in whatever form you choose – be it the iPad, iTouch, iPhone, or a commercially ruggedized tablet, portable printer or other device.    It was all anyone was talking about or demonstrating.  And Wi-Fi, bless it’s little invisible soul, was in almost every device, including a cash drawer from APG,  connecting everything.
      A number of companies were showing the latest versions of their portable printers.   Nice, attractive solutions were shown by Zebra, Star Micronics (see image on right), Seiko, Brother and others.   Some printers were, ahhhh, more portable than others and I’m totally grateful I don’t have to wear one of them at work.  (Am I being indelicate?  Trust me people, they ain’t so portable.)    But I LOVE that retail and service businesses are adopting the technology like crazy.   star sm t300 When I return a rental car and Hertz hands me my receipt within seconds, it is sweet!  (When they email me a digital receipt a moment later, my heart truly swells and I get a warming sensation deep down inside.)   Just put my receipts in my email please.   Of course, the market for those printers is much bigger than just receipts.  The wonderful printers I saw at the show were cranking out shelf labels, product labels, bar codes, tags, coupons and much more.  If there were an app that could, at the touch of a single button on the printer, download my daily schedule from my Google calendar, and print it out for me, or an app to print my shopping list, I’d probably buy one of those printers and hang it next to my front door. 

      At the Epson booth I saw one of the most interesting devices and applications of the whole show.  It  was an OmniLink printer that captured transaction data as it printed receipts, and reported that data via wi-fi for consolidation, without having to send it up to headquarters through the POS system.  Why was it this so interesting?    As Joel Doherty CEO, of LiveLenz explained, it offers franchisors a way to get real time data from the 15 year old legacy point-of-sale systems in the field,  without having to upgrade the entire POS system. (See picture at the top of the article).   This has already been rolled out in national franchises –  with strong demand.    This printer is a no-brainer  for any franchisor or franchisee seeking to get the benefits of a contemporary POS reporting system without a heavy upgrade cost.   I witnessed a live example, with real-time data, coming in from stores with older, electronic cash register type hardware where they had merely replaced their old printer with the epson omnilinkOmni-Link model.    
    Even more exciting – the printer is remotely configurable through wi-fi. No need to mess around with programming the disparate POS systems at different franchisees.    Epson offers several versions of this technology – including one with an Intel Atom processor built in and fully programmable.  Way to go Epson!! 
      More coolness at the show – I love the use of color and design and have, in past columns, severely criticized the bar code industry for being boring.   Yes, being functional but mundane can be a crime.   Breaking out of the box were devices like those offered by POSBANK.  Sleek black, white or maroon colored  POS terminals that I would be proud to have in any retail establishment.   Color, style, pizazz, je ne sais quoi, hipness and funk matter.  Out of the box and proud of it.  Nice work!   
pos bank imprex2
Memo to industry: superior technology inside the case needs to be matched by a pleasing design and consumer friendly ergonomics of the device itself.  
    I won’t waste a lot of time berating the hardware business for it’s common plain brown packaging, but would it severely hurt profit margins to put the product in a colorfully printed laminated box, instead of brown cardboard?  Are we talking about more than an incremental fifty or seventy five cents per  box, in quantity?  I think not.  Somebody IS selling your product on Amazon right? Maybe it’s time to spruce it up!  


      Speaking of large companies,  Retail Anywhere was acquired by NetSuite.  I spoke with former RA CEO Branden  Jenkins, who just completed the sale of the company to NetSuite, and is now the General Manager of Retail and Etail Products for Netsuite.    RA was a 15 year old point of sale company.  He told me that they are hiring 70 staffers to work on the RA product and move it further up the food chain towards bigger clients.  NetSuite is traded on the NYSE, symbol N.   

    It does seem like we have a trend of acquisition this past year.  POS is being commoditized further and are more acquisitions due to come?  Have a tip? Share it with us!
     Conclusion:  the show was bigger than ever, and better attended than ever.  The booths were dressier and everything looked great.  The level of enthusiasm and energy was palpable.  
    Net net: the retail industry is alive and well, and hungry for business in 2013!  


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