IBM and Salesforce Lead Transformation in Retail With AI-driven Innovations at NRF’24

This week, the National Retail Federation’s “Big Show” is gathering tens of thousands of retailers and brands across various channels and categories at the Jacob Javits Center in New York to network, learn and hear from industry leaders.

The real buzz was on the NRF Expo Hall floor, where several thousand tech companies, solution providers and other vendors are touting their wares. This year, the stars of the show are rapidly evolving innovations, including generative AI (also known as “GenAI”), cloud-based solutions and integrated and unified commerce platforms.

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But what’s driving the need for all this innovation?

Regarding generative AI, IBM cited a recent IBM Institute for Business Value study that said the “retail landscape is undergoing a transformation, propelled by changes in consumer preferences and advancements in new technologies.”

The report’s authors said today’s consumers are discerning and “expect a tailored shopping journey, complete with the convenience of product choices, detailed information, diverse payment methods and a seamless integration of in-store and online experiences that cater to their individual preferences.”

“Generative AI can help address these expectations, creating retail environments as intuitive and unified as they are finely tuned to individual needs,” IBM said, adding that AI-driven solutions “are at the heart of IBM’s offerings, focus and solutions at NRF’24.”

Meanwhile, Salesforce rolled out one of its biggest suites of solutions ever. Powered by the company’s Einstein 1 Platform, the innovations “aim to transform every shopping experience.” Salesforce said with generative AI built into its Commerce Cloud and Marketing Cloud, “retail merchandisers and marketers can tap into generative tools with a real-time understanding of customer behavior and preferences to optimize every customer interaction — increasing loyalty, driving revenue and boosting employee productivity.”

While that sounds like a monumental task, the Einstein 1 Platform seamlessly integrates shopper and retail data — and does it while ensuring security.

To address the “why does all this matter?” question, Salesforce, using its own surveys, said 83 percent of global retailers have seen operational efficiency improvements with AI. “And 63 percent of marketers say that trusted customer data is important to implementing generative AI in their businesses,” Salesforce said. “Retailers need a solution that can bring all of their customer data together into one trusted platform and use it to power the most efficient, AI-driven retail experiences.”

The complete integration of its solution includes several e-commerce features such as Salesforce “Page Designer,” which allows retailers and brands to customize and design pages more quickly. “Return Insights in Order Management” is also available and helps brands analyze data to look at patterns in return activity. It uses AI “to prompt retailers to make product display changes that minimize future returns,” the company said in a statement.

Also new is “Inventory Insights,” which gives digital retailers “a clear view of available inventory to ensure products remain in stock whenever possible.” “Customer and Product Insights” uses data from Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Marketing Cloud and Data Cloud “to help merchandisers better visualize trends, such as the top product bundles sold and the most engaged shopper demographics, to build new targeted commerce experiences.”

Speaking of marketing technology, Revionics, an Aptos Company and provider of retail pricing, promotion, markdown and analytics solutions, spotlighted its upcoming innovations. And, yes, it is generative AI. The first is a generative AI-powered chatbot demonstrated at the Revionics booth.

“With Revionics’ GenAI chatbot, retailers leveraging Revionics’ intelligent pricing platform can ask the chatbot questions and get responses back in seconds,” the company said in a statement. “The chatbot is a retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) system, leveraging Revionics’ vast user guide library to serve as the model’s foundational source of knowledge, resulting in responses that are trustworthy and up to date.”

The full rollout for Revionics customers will be sometime this quarter.

Revionics said more investments in the GenAI chatbot are “planned throughout 2024, with later phases to incorporate advanced data mining and analytics capabilities.”

Josh Oettle, vice president of product management and engineering at Revionics, said retailers and brands “are being asked to do more with less — including in the pricing realm. We believe that GenAI is a powerful tool to enhance software adoption and drive efficiencies. By augmenting our industry-leading pricing solutions with GenAI, we are helping our customers solve their pricing and promotional challenges even faster, with better results and more visibility into how those results are achieved.”

Aptos also shared data from the International Data Corporation (IDC), which noted that enterprises worldwide “are expected to invest $143 billion in GenAI solutions in 2027, up from nearly $16 billion in 2023.”

Ananda Chakravarty, research vice president of retail merchandising, marketing and analytics at IDC, said generative AI “has taken the market by storm — and this includes the retail industry.”

“Data is the key to successful GenAI tools, and tech vendors that understand this will be well positioned to help retailers tap into the opportunities of GenAI,” Chakravarty said. “Using GenAI to enhance adoption of modern and AI-powered price optimization tools presents a compelling use case to be explored.”

Generative AI isn’t the only tech expected to draw attention at NRF. Cloud-based, integrated and unified solutions also are on display.

The Aptos One commerce platform is getting a hefty upgrade this year. “The new capabilities span all areas of unified commerce execution, including store inventory management, universal promotions and payment partner integration,” the company said in a statement.

Ian Auerbach, vice president of product management at Aptos said the Aptos One POS “offers a depth of core POS functionality that none of our competitors can match — that is going to be very evident in our 2024 software releases. While other vendors rushed to market with modular POS solutions with basic functionality, our strategy was to offer advanced store selling and omni-native capabilities right out of the box.”

Auerbach said the bold move is being made to “prove to retailers that you can have the best of both worlds — the most modern and extensible software architectures with very robust and configurable features/functions. This development strategy has really resonated with retailers.”

The company said the roadmap for 2024 includes “Aptos Store Inventory Management (SIM),” which is a mobile application that allows retailers “to holistically manage all movement of inventory coming into or transferring out of the store.” Aptos said the SIM is built into the platform and “offers pre-built integrations to Aptos’ OMS and Merchandising solutions and has an extensibility framework with APIs and facade services to easily integrate with third-party software.”

As a result, retailers and brands can have accurate inventory updates done in real-time.

On the marketing front, Jumpmind Inc. unveiled “Jumpmind Promote” at the show, which the company described as a “unified promotions solution.” The platform aims to empower retailers and brands with the ability to offer differentiated promotions to engage “inflation-weary shoppers” via incentivizing purchases.

“It’s not uncommon for most retailers to have four to seven disparate promotions toolsets, making it difficult to orchestrate highly relevant and personalized promotions for today’s omnichannel shoppers,” the company said in a statement. “Legacy solutions are often the biggest impediment to creating new and original promotions, relegating retailers to the same-old ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ clichéd offers.”

Instead, Jumpmind Promote is designed to drive conversions through what it describes as “a simple and intuitive interface with powerful tools to streamline unified promotion execution.” The company said by providing “one engine and one authoring tool, and key workflows for all promotions across channels, Promote provides a centralized hub for promotional teams to build, launch and execute campaigns.”

Also at the Jumpmind booth was Build-a-Bear Workshop Inc., which recently deployed the company’s mobile-first Point of Sale (POS) and CX Connect interactive customer engagement solution “to enrich end-to-end in-store experiences.” Jumpmind said the retailer teamed “to enhance its in-store retail engagement, providing Build-a-Bear store associates with tools to deliver ‘memorable moments’ via an engaging and inspired process all the way through to checkout that is beyond ordinary.”

Running Jumpmind CX Connect interactive customer displays on iPad devices, Jumpmind said Build-a-Bear store associates “have all the tools at their fingertips to provide one-to-one personalized customer engagement.”

“The solution complements Build-a-Bear’s implementation of Jumpmind Commerce, Jumpmind’s cloud-native, mobile-first POS solution, allowing Bear Builder associates to collaborate with guests as they make their own unique furry friends from building, dressing and accessorizing the plush during the full guest experience,” the company said.

At the PTC booth, the company showcased its PLM solution, “FlexPLM,” as well as “Flex Insights,” and also “a full suite of digital product creation and sustainability solutions — all designed to give brands and retailers the power to create,” the company said in a statement.

Bill Brewster, senior vice president and general manager of PTC’s Retail Business Unit, was on hand with his team to share updates to the company’s platform, which include features such as “a modern and visual user experience that includes an all-new BOM with Excel-like capabilities, intuitive Google-like search and further support for visual assets and digital product creation.”

With Flex Insights, the platform “connects data across enterprise systems and applies AI capability to enable brands and retailers to make faster and better decisions,” the company said, adding that the updates also include sustainability and compliance tracking solutions “that provide users with the data they need to proactively impact corporate ESG goals.”

Other features include a full suite of digital product creation solutions “from bi-directional workflows to collaboration, visualization and optimization capabilities that enable companies to scale their use of 3D assets across the value chain,” PTC said.

Brewster said NRF’s Big Show brings together “the brightest minds in the industry to discuss critical topics and provide new perspectives to set up brands and retailers for continued success.” At the exhibit booth, he said the goal is to show how PTC’s solutions are differentiated in the market via “usability, scalability, security, [and] the ability to manage countless product categories and multinational complex supply chains as standard.”

He also said the company’s innovations offer “the opportunity to turn some truly unique technologies into an advantage in terms of speed to market, agility and creativity — every area that counts in the retail market of today.”

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