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.