When Retail Innovators Get It Right…And When They Get It Wrong

One of the hallmarks of the NRF Big Show is the onslaught of technology that just seems to get more and more robust every year. And while that’s not a shocker, sometimes it is a surprise just how much of the tech is either for show, behind the times or too far ahead of the times to have any practical purpose for years.

So out of some of the more popular tech at NRF, what really checked out and what didn’t? Here’s my unvarnished take:



The list below are the innovations at NRF that get it right. In some way, these engage with the consumer or solve a need that will help both the user and the brand accomplish their goal.

AR Storefront from Ads Reality

In many cases, brands will be turning the storefront space into digital boards over the next few years (if they haven’t already). This is a unique twist on the practice, by creating a virtual window into the store and adding digital elements on top of real life. This can be used to place offers or gamify the details of what the inside of the store has to offer.

Thursday Finest: Clothing On Demand

Custom print clothing to your fit/style and personalized. Still early but the fashion industry is officially on notice. The time will come where clothes are no longer bought off of racks, but created in real time to fit. This is your closet in preview.

Foot Scanners from Volumental and Sols

Walk into a shoe store and step onto a perfectly accurate foot scanner. Now when you pick out a pair of shoes, they should fit like a glove. And you know, there isn’t a shoe store out there that couldn’t benefit from this simple tech. Pretty comforting.

AI Web Optimization

Sentient Ascend is an improvement on the traditional A/B testing tools for web sites. This will take any site and optimize in real time against thousands of possible combinations. Say goodbye to landing pages that are a road block to conversion.

AI Shopping Chat from

For the longest time, brands have attempted to improve the shopping experience to be personalized to the consumer. Now take all of the products from your site, feed them into an intelligent chat that will talk directly to the consumer and recommend products based on a photo they take. This is the true manifestation of the Facebook Chatbot for Retail.

Computer Vision Checkout

The absolute worst part of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience is the checkout. Amazon recently demoed a concept that answered this problem, but it has its quirks. Focal Systems is showcasing an option that detects products using a camera in real time to record items as they are placed in your cart. This removes the need for consumer technology and adds a layer of fraud prevention.

Digital Shopping Display

Last year at CES, Think & Go was demoing a very early version of their digital display that was shoppable with mobile tap and pay. They have now worked their tech into partnerships that are ready to roll with brands. This is a big step up on the bus shelter style advertising, when you can convert a customer at the moment of advertising.



These are the platforms or tools that are just not worth it. The technology is either not refined or not necessary to helping customers through the journey.

VR Shopping

Of course, a number of vendors (InVRsion, InContext Solutions) were demoing their VR shopping experience. But the barrier to ask a consumer to load up a set of VR goggles just to shop your store? C’mon.

Watson Cooking Robot

Robots and AI are the way of the future — CES proved that. IBM combined the two to make a robot that helps you find a recipe based on the items you have. The speech recognition, intelligence and robot were all a bit clunky. We are still years away from truly helpful and affordable robots for retail.

OnStar Go With Watson

IBM is working to load Watson into every retail application possible. Moreover, the prospect of the car GPS updating shopping recommendations and a complete checkout process is intriguing. But is this solving a real consumer need at this point? Not even close.

Shopping Nearby AR

Marriott and Visa teamed up to create an augmented reality app that shows you a perspective view of the places to go around New York City. Under the guise of very cool visuals and a huge barrier to usage for consumers, this is definitely a flashy gimmick that doesn’t give you anything better than Yelp.

Self-Checkout Cameras

Unlike computer vision checkout, Stoplift is a checkout vision system that monitors every product as it crosses the scanner in a traditional self-checkout. This adds value to the customer experience in the name of fraud prevention, but the brand pays the price. There are a number of ways that the benefit can be to both, that will eliminate the checkout lines completely.

Zimmerman Advertising, an Omnicom Group company, is the leading integrated, retail agency in the country. Zimmerman’s clients represent some of the most prominent retail brands in the country, including hhgregg, Nissan, Party City, Dunkin’ Donuts, Tire Kingdom, AutoNation, Advance America, Five Below, Smokey Bones, Modell’s and Michaels. Headquartered in South Florida, the agency has retail service offices throughout the country, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and Nashville. For information on the agency, visit

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