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4 retail and restaurant technology trends from NRF

Exhibitors talk with attendees in the EXPO Hall at Retail’s BIG Show

The overarching theme at the National Retail Federation’s BIG Show this year was clear: Know your customer. This theme resonated throughout keynote and breakout sessions and on both levels of the EXPO Hall floor. Whether you’re a food retailer or a restaurant operator, there was something for everyone on how to get to know and engage customers using multiple channels. Here is a look at some of the retail and restaurant technology trends seen on the show floor that help connect businesses with their customers both within their establishments as well as online:

1. Online brand monitoring

Many companies showing in the EXPO Hall were there to show brands how they can help them make sense of the ever-growing social diner. New Brand Analytics is a company that does just that by harvesting social media mentions of specific brands and aggregating them into a dashboard for restaurants and other businesses.

The company takes unstructured social feedback and organizes it by more than 70 different metrics such as service, attentiveness, menu, food quality and prices, according to NBA Sales Director Adam Hack. Working with more than 140 partners in the food and beverage industry, New Brand Analytics also offers recommendations and best practices to help businesses make tactical decisions based on the social feedback NBA harvests for them.

“What we want to do is be able to take you full circle as a foodservice organization and say ‘here’s the entire world of what’s going on from a volumetric perspective. Of that, these subset[s] of comments are insightful. They say something about the experience at your business, at your restaurants, either on a local level or a brand level,'” Hack explained. “And then diving deeper into that through the operational categories…to give them the full picture of what’s going on in social.”

2. Smart shelving systems

Several companies came to the BIG Show offering smart shelving systems, including Pricer, which provides an electronic labeling system for shelving that allows retailers to change prices on products using a computer or device, rather than through the traditional method of doing it by hand. The system works for retailers from an operational standpoint because it saves on the cost of manual labor, but it also gives grocers and other retailers a way to interact with customers on a deeper level than traditional labeling systems, Pricer General Manager Wyatt Alston said.

Each Pricer label includes a QR code that provides customers with more in-depth information on the product they’re looking at. For food retailers, Alston said that the system allows for a greater connection with the customer by giving them information about products such as ingredients. For example, consumers with food allergies would feel safer purchasing products when they know whether it contains ingredients that are safe for them to eat.

3. Customer analytics 

Customer analytics was also a big focus at the show and was emphasized by speakers, including Sprouts Farmers Markets, and exhibitors, alike. Service Management Group was there showing off its Survey Mini application, which measures customer experience and shopping and dining behaviors at the store level.

The app — which has been voluntarily downloaded by more than 20,000 users who provide personal demographic data upon downloading — tracks shoppers’ visits to hundreds of thousands of restaurants and stores across the nation and sends them short surveys of 11 questions or less asking about their purchasing intentions and actual purchases, among other things, SMG Senior Vice President of Brand Research Joe Sciara said. The survey data is shared with the company’s more-than 100 retail and 150 restaurant partners, and the surveys themselves have a response rate of more than 80%, he said. SMG’s partners can then use the data, which covers everything from how long shoppers were in the store or restaurant to how far they traveled to get there, to gain insight into customers’ purchasing, partial-purchasing and non-purchasing behaviors.

“We’re inviting people to share more feedback,” Sciara said. “We’re making it easy for them to share feedback. I can’t think of a more direct way of telling a customer ‘we’re listening to you.'”

4. In-store shopper tracking

Other companies offered several options in the in-store shopper tracking space, such as Amrelitech, whose AVA Retail system gives companies real-time data about how customers are shopping in their stores or how diners are behaving in their restaurants.

Using sensors and tracking technology such as heat detection, AVA Retail sends data to a central location for store associates or restaurant workers, so they know when a product runs out or when a table has been vacated, Amrelitech Project Manager Shawn Sullivan said. The data can also be used by retailers to track which products are the most popular and which parts of the store receive the most traffic. Store associates using handheld devices can also use the system to know which product a customer is looking at so they can offer them more information or answer their questions.