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The Best of NRF 2012

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Now that the doors are closed on “retail’s big show” for another year – and ahead of our in-depth series of reports and interviews beginning next week – I wanted to take a moment to pick out my highlights of the 2012 National Retail Federation Conference & Expo.

1. The biggest big show to date

This year’s NRF show attracted more than 25,500 delegates from around the world, and the queues for registration at time stretched out of the doors of the Javits Centre and onto the frozen New York City pavements outside.  More than 6,000 of those delegates were from outside the US, and the exhibition floor was thronged with vendors, developers and hopefuls from as far away as Brazil and China.  At the opening night International Reception, I had the pleasure of meeting developers, reporters and executives from India, Russia, Austria, Australia and France in the cavernous International Lounge.  Retail truly knows no borders.

2. Bill Clinton sets the stage

Monday’s keynote address was delivered by Bill Clinton, and served to add some strong and inspirational context to the rest of the show.  Titled “Embracing Our Common Humanity”, the former US President’s speech underscored the vital role that retail plays in safeguarding the global economy.  In the midst of a show packed with statistics, social media and omnipresent mobile technology, President Clinton’s speech ensured that each audience member in the packed North Hall never lost sight of the shared responsibilities of doing business in a difficult climate.  Watch out for our full report next week for more insight into this keynote address and how it pertains to our industry.

3. Retail means jobs

With the retail industry accounting for more than 25% of America’s GDP and employing a vast, diverse workforce, the NRF show was the ideal place to drum up support for the Retail Means Jobs initiative.  One in four jobs in the US is supported by the retail industry, and as President Clinton explained, those are no mere figures – a job created by a thriving retailer means yet another unemployed American returning to work.  This is a principle that applies in every country that sent a representative to the NRF show, and it was heartening to see the industry collectively shoulder the burden at an event that could all too easily have been focused on revenue and balance sheets.

4. Supplier interviews

I was lucky enough to meet with representatives of PTC, NGC, Visual 2000, Gerber Technology, ecVision, BMS and Dassault Systemes during the show.  I asked each of them where they felt PLM’s place was in the retail industry, and what they saw as the biggest drivers for development over the coming year.  Starting next week these interviews will run here on WhichPLM, providing a different perspective on the events of not just the NRF show, but the year as a whole.

5. Augmented reality for fashion

Using the same kind of range-finding technology seen in Microsoft’s Kinect (which was recently approved for a business launch in 2012), Cisco’s StyleMe solution allowed shoppers to stand before a portrait-oriented screen and, through a gesture-driven interface, have their digitised selves try on popular looks and individual garments without ever visiting a fitting room.  As demonstrated by solutions like FastFit360, Optitex and Browzwear, 3D garment visualisation is playing an increasingly vital role in product development, but the demonstrations on the NRF showfloor suggest that this will soon be reflected too in the customer-facing portions of the apparel industry.

6. PLM suite demonstration

During my interview with the staff at the ecVision stand on the showfloor, I was treated to an overview of what appears to be a comprehensive, fully-featured and well-designed PLM suite.  I have experienced the solutions offered by many vendors in the past, but this was my first time with the ecVision Suite, and I came away impressed by the functionality and usability on offer.

7. Your phone is now your wallet

Search giants Google had various parts of their retail offering on show, from Adwords to e-Commerce, but as a UK resident I was particularly captivated by the potential of Google Wallet.  Contact-less payment methods are something of a novelty back home, but Google has partnered with a who’s who of retail and banking to realise their smartphone payment service.  Simply brushing a suitably-enabled Android phone across a small in-store reader is sufficient to initiate a payment, and Google promises that the technology will be in place in a considerable number of high-profile retailers in the US this year.  I look forward to seeing how far the UK retail industry is willing to adopt this kind of forward-thinking technology in the future.

8. The central role of PLM in retail

The NRF showfloor was crowded with solutions that promise to manage everything from sourcing and warehouse management, right through to virtual sampling and point of sale.  I was struck by just how much of the data resulting from these solutions could (and arguably should) be managed within a properly-chosen PLM solution.  As our regular readers will have noticed, expanded PLM (or “E-PLM”) has been growing rapidly here at WhichPLM, and a high percentage of the solutions demonstrated at this year’s show fall under that umbrella.  At both ends of the spectrum, virtual sampling and 3D store visualisation (representing garments at the prototype stage and in their final form, on a hanger in a flagship store) create valuable information that can be fed into a PLM solution to create real insight into every stage of the product development process.

9. Product image capturing technology

As well as attending a fascinating in-store demonstration and lavish evening reception thrown by 360-degree visualisation specialists FastFit360, WhichPLM were also presented with a demonstration of the new StyleShoots solution from iShopShape.  Using a high resolution camera, lightbox and iPad, StyleShoots captures a single view of a particular garment (rather than a series of images) in exacting detail, with no background interference.  I saw the solution demonstrated on a scarf that boasted exceptionally intricate detailing, and StyleShoots was able to create a detailed, transparent image of every last stitch.

10. Expanded PLM from Microsoft partners

In the latter part of the expo I was finally able to part the crowds at the busy Microsoft partners booth, where I saw demonstrations of unique collection book and point of sale applications running on Microsoft’s multi-touch Surface platform.  Also present at the packed partner booth were Dassault Systemes, who were demonstrating their 3DVIA solution.  While only the consumer goods portion of the software was on display, I was treated to a preview of how 3DVIA will be brought into the apparel industry in the very near future.  Dassault have kindly offered to demonstrate both this and their 3D Natural Sketch solution for Catia to the WhichPLM team next week.

Keep watching WhichPLM over the coming weeks for a full report, photography, supplier interviews, videos and more from the NRF show.

Ben Hanson is the Editor of WhichPLM

Ben Hanson Ben Hanson is one of WhichPLM’s top contributors. Ben has worked for magazines, newspapers, local government agencies, multi-million pound conservation projects, museums and creative publications before his eventual migration to the Retail, Footwear and Apparel industry.Having previously served as WhichPLM’s Editor, Ben knows the WhichPLM style, and has been responsible for many of our on-the-ground reports and interviews over the last few years. With a background in literature, marketing and communications, Ben has more than a decade’s worth of experience, and is now viewed as one of the industry’s best-known writers.

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