StepOne at NRF09

NRF 2009

NRF 2009

For the NRF show our focus was on our suite of snapRETAIL products, SNAP Store Performance and Shopping Experience Apps.  Most of the application we have shown before, but this year we added Stock Room Management and an MK500 Item Checker.  Both of which we think have great potential and were both well received by those customers we talked with.

Despite the financial collapse and the reduced traffic at NRF09, it was still one of our better shows.  Each year we get better at setting up our trade show booth and in continue to improve our entire company.  However, despite having a good show, the show was somewhat disappointing since everything we are doing is so much better than ever before.  It’s just all that more difficult due to the economy.

The StepOne Booth

For the second year, we decided to have our own booth.  In June when we made the decision, it was a no-brainer, but with the economic collapse leading up to the show, it was looking like a less good idea and we scaled back some of our plans.  Although we decided to cut back on some expenses, we did continue to improve our presence at the show and despite a generally poor attendance and floor traffic, we still had a good show.

While having our own booth is a huge amount of effort and expense for a small software company, we continue to see it as an important part of our overall marketing strategy.

This year, we had Sharp Creative design the graphics and layout of the booth.  It really makes a big difference having a real marketing company develop our booth and have some real graphics.  We had originally planned on replacing our booth this year, but ending up “re-skinning” the old one with a bunch of vinyl graphics.

In general that new graphics worked out great, but due to some scheduling challenges we weren’t able to set up the booth ahead of time to test everything out.  When Todd and I started setting it up everything was going great until we went to set up the corner pieces, the mobility boulevard street signs.  Originally the two mobility boulevard signs were to be attached on the rounded corners of the booth, but the vinyl that they were printed on were too stiff to attach to the curved partitions.  After an hour of panic and reusing some of the graphics from last year, we ended up with something that looked pretty good.  With a couple of more tweaks we should be in good shape for the rest of the year.

The Motorola Booth

Since we are one of Motorola’s top ISV’s we also had a pod in Motorola’s area, one of the busiest parts of the entire show.  This has proven to be a great source of leads for us at the show since nearly every retailer visits this area.

This year we had a great location, right in the front corner of the booth, which gave us great visibility at the show.  We definitely had better traffic in the Moto booth than our own.  They had a steady stream of customer tours through the booth and it also gave us a great opportunity to network with the other vendors and Motorola team.

In addition, Motorola had their traditional networking event at the Rainbow Room on Monday night which for us is a huge networking event since we have such a long history with Motorola (Symbol).  This year was no different.   After a slow first day of traffic on the floor, we were able to more than make up for it with this event.  It will be strange when NRF moves to Washington DC in 2011 and all the traditions will change.

Spreading the News

This year we limited the handouts to the StepOne News and a snapRETAIL handout.  This ended up working out very well, though we do need to find a more cost effective way to print our collateral.

StepOne News – NRF 2009 Edition

The StepOne News gives us the ability to highlight many of the great things that are happening at StepOne.  This year we featured the new Stock Room Management application, our MK500 Item Checker and the Mobility Boulevard concept.

snapRETAIL Handout

In contrast, the snapRETAIL is a much more traditional product handout that gives a nice overview of our snapRETAIL set of products.  It provides a standard feature summary of snapRETAIL and the features that is available.   It gives a nice summary of the products and provides a good complement to the newspaper.

Wrapping It Up

So despite one of the worst economy in recorded history and a somber NRF, it was still a good tradeshow for us at StepOne.  Now that we are back home we’ll follow up on the opportunities and see if it was truly a worthwhile event.

NRF09: The Retail’s Big Show Wasn’t So Big

NRF 2009

NRF 2009

This was my fourth year attending NRF as a vendor and it was definitely one of the more unusual.   Despite some reports that I’ve seen, traffic on the exhibition was the lightest I’ve ever seen, and from talking to other people there, it’s the least traffic they can remember.  It’s clear that the difficult financial environment has made a real impact at this show.  While most of the regular retailers were there, they either had fewer people, or like one company I know of, canceled at the last moment.

That is not to say that it was a ghost town either.  It was clear which companies were doing relatively well and were looking to extend their lead through technical investments.  There was a good representation of the dollar stores, value priced retailers, etc.  It’s nice to see that someone is doing reasonably well in these difficult times.

The other thing that really resonated was what one of the Motorola folks told me, we are living in a “Do or Die” type of world.  In this retail environment you can make one of two choices, keep “Doing Something” to fight through the difficult times, or try to survive by not doing anything.  Although the second choice may seem prudent at first, it can easily turn in to the death of the company as their competitors continue to make improvement.

Many of the companies we talked to were clearly living this mantra, looking for incremental ways to improve their business, manage their inventory, and overall just do things better.  In our case these efforts are typically focused on mobile applications, providing better inventory management, pricing management, and customer interfacing.

Clearly others are seeing this as an important area to invest as well.  As I walked around the floor there was a continued increase in the number of mobile software vendors and companies providing mobile extensions to their existing products such as allowing mobile access to their POS and back-end systems.  Clearly there is a real movement to deploy more mobile retail applications.

I also saw a lot more hardware vendors providing their solutions.  Of course there were the big players such as Motorola (Symbol), Intermec, and Honeywell (formerly HHP), but there were many smaller vendors pitching low cost and unique form factors.

NRF continues to be the one big must attend retail show of the year and of course we’ll be back again next year.  I just hope next year it returns to the levels of previous years.

Mobile Advance Shipping Notice (ASN) Receiving

One of the most common EDI transactions used in retail is the Advance Shipping Notice (EDI 856).  This notice is sent by the store’s vendor to inform the retailer that a shipment is being delivered and allows the retailer to plan for the delivery of the items in the shipment.

While the ASN alerts the store that the items are being delivered and will be arriving shortly, it is not adequate to update the store’s inventory or the accounting system.  These systems require that someone verifies that the items in the shipment have actually been physically received by the store or distribution center.

In the past, the only way to track the receipt of the shipment was a manual process.  The store manager would receive a print out from the order management system of the expected shipments.  Then once the shipment arrived, someone at the store would locate the printed report, match the PO to the shipping documents, receive the shipment, check that the merchandise matched the order and verify that it was not damaged.  Finally, they manually created a paper receiving report that was sent to headquarters, and ultimately keyed in to the order management system.  This paper based manual process is extremely time consuming and error prone.

However, with a properly designed mobile ASN receiving application, the entire processing of ASN shipments can be fully automated.  As the order management system receives an ASN message from the vendor, a copy is forwarded to the mobile inventory management system.  Then when the shipment is  received, the person at the store uses a mobile terminal to find the ASN and receive the shipment.

The mobile application then scans each carton, or even every item in the shipment, to verify that the correct items have been received.  In addition, the application can track damaged items and rejected shipments.  Once the shipment has been received, a message is then automatically sent to the order management system, where it is audited optionally sends a Receiving Advice message (EDI 861) to inform the vendor that the shipment was received.  All of this with a simple to use mobile appilcation.

The mobile ASN receiving application is a cricital component of any perpetual inventory system and is typically used to track all shipments within the retailer, including shipments from the distribution center and store-to-store transfers.

Retail Investment in Mobile Technology

With everything that is happening with the collapse of the world financial markets and the impact it will inevitably have on retail sales, it makes me wonder what will happen with investment in retail technology, and in particular for us, what does it me to mobile retail software sales.

For those companies in a financial position there are a lot of good reasons to make technology investments including competitive advantage, cost management/reductions, and maximizing ROI.

Reason 1: Competitive Advantage

One of the more compelling reasons to invest in technology during a market downturn is to gain a competitive advantage over your rivals.   Historically companies have trimmed IT expenditures during a recession, but take a look at the case of Best Buy during the post 9/11 contraction, The Inevitable Recession: Start Planning for the Rebound Now, which describes how Best Buy was able to leap frog past Circuit City and CompUSA.  This IT investment allowed Best buy to become the dominant player in consumer electronics.  Best Buy is also continuing this strategy with their Napster acquisition, Best Buy completes tender offer for Napster.

This is the basic strategy of leveraging an advantage to develop or extend a competitive advantage.  So look at anyone doing reasonably well in the retail space to be extending their advantage.  Take for instance Wal-Mart ignites a toy war.  Thus if you have the ability to improve your retail systems when your competitors are unable you may be able to create a sustainable strategic advantage.

Reason 2: Cost Management

When the economy is doing well and everybody is making money, management rarely cares about controlling retail costs.  However, in an economic downturn saving every penny becomes increasingly important.  In retail some of the more important ways to manage costs are reducing inventory costs, while still maintaining adequate stock levels, and reducing personnel costs.

The interesting part, is that these are the same areas that mobile technology can make a real difference.  If you want to manage your inventory levels, you first must have an accurate count of inventory.  This is where Mobile Inventory Management really makes a difference by providing accurate back of the store inventory changes (Receiving, Transfers, and Mark Out of Stock) as well as Physical Inventory and Cycle Count applications.  When combined with the store’s POS records, management has everything required to make well informed decisions.

Reason 3: Maximize ROI

In the past, deploying a new mobile application meant deploying a new mobile infrastructure (mobile terminals, mobile printers, and a wireless LAN), but with the capabilities of modern mobile terminals, adding a new application can be just a matter of loading new software on the terminal.  Thus if a company has already deployed a mobile infrastructure, they can achieve a significant follow on ROI with a small incremental investment,

In many cases this opportunity existing since retailers have deployed a new infrastructure, but have only deployed a minimal set of applications.  Often this investment was part of a DOS-to-CE migration that  was limited to redeploying existing applications with a terminal emulator.  In this scenario, there is a great opportunity to take advantage of the mobile infrastructure that is in place to deploy new mobile retail applications.

Conclusion: Time to Invest in Mobile Retail Technology

Therefore despite the difficult economic environment, it may still be time for your company to invest in Mobile Retail Technology.  A small investment now may be the strategic difference between just surviving the current business environment, and creating a long-term strategic advantage for your company.