I just got back from Retail's BIG Show, the National Retail Federation's annual convention and expo, held this year at the Javits Convention Center in New York. Now I understand why the event's logo and lettering stresses the all-uppercase "BIG" word. With more than 30,000 attendees, 500 exhibitors and dozens of overlapping keynote sessions, breakout sessions and networking events, there's a lot to see, hear and discuss.
Speakers at this year's event ranged from retail CEOs like Blake Nordstrom and Terry Lundgren, to marketing strategists behind brands like HGTV Home, Life is Good, Hallmark and Warby Parker, to consultants and retail technology minds at companies like Facebook, Forbes and IBM.
Wednesday's closing keynote session featured Twitter and Square founder Jack Dorsey, who spoke about the power of the receipt as a communication channel. Dorsey illustrated the concept with Square Wallet, the process that, for example, lets customers walk into a coffee shop, be greeted by name, be serviced and pay for product -- without ever touching a wallet or mobile device. Dorsey was introduced by HSNi CEO (and National Retail Federation Foundation chairman) Mindy Grossman, who joined him onstage for an audience Q&A session.
The EXPO floor, open Monday and Tuesday of the conference, was heavily populated with vendors and technology providers of mobile apps, "customer-facing" shopping apps, supply chain solutions, geofencing systems, big data information processing systems, multichannel/omnichannel data integration systems, and innovations and new directions in digital display, payment systems, "customer personalization," virtual shopping and intelligence gathering.
Some of my favorite demos: Wipro, where I virtually shopped a wall of shelves in 4D; EBay's Connected Glass, where I put together a lovely outfit using a giant film-on-glass touch screen (click on the video, right, to see it in action); Google, where I "purchased" a Google t-shirt and granola bar using Google Wallet; and the Mintel-sponsored NRF Innovation Lab where a display of innovative new retail products included Sexcereal (formulated to increase your sexual performance, in both his and hers varieties) and Japanese gum that freshens your breath and then your skin (with the scent of roses).
I saw some great social media consumer advocates in action at Needle, and came away from Intel (a great showcase of their latest and greatest retail technologies) with a copy of "The History of Retail in 100 Objects," a super book with scannable interactive content I can access once I download the "Layar" app.
I also accepted an offsite invite to tour the new digital display technologies in the works at Infusion, a creative tech tank that creates "digital experiences and emerging technology solutions for retail, financial services, oil and gas, health and life sciences, entertainment, hospitality, education, and the public sector."
Infusion's "Experience Lounge" is located in its headquarters at Broadway and Houston, and it is here that I played with some of the yet-to-be-seen digital technologies that are going to be enhancing shopping experiences with digital walls, digital tables, and stunning UltraD video technology that doesn't require the use of any eyewear (except my Google Glass, which I used to film this video clip).
I made a robot dance with a tweet, virtually stuffed a Build-A-Bear bear, and came away with a little video in a little paper box -- all of which I look forward to sharing here in the coming days and weeks, as soon as I can unpack, edit and curate all the stuff I captured with my completely full digital camera and iPhone, and, of course, my Google Glass (preview here). Stay tuned!