Trends in Technology and Automation at Retail

When I visit retailers around the country, they often ask me about industry trends because they know I speak with many retailers, manufacturers and companies that are on the cutting edge of digital and mobile technologies. It’s an exciting time to watch everyone scrambling to keep up with the rapidly evolving discoveries and innovations that are coming to market, such that it’s often not how big a company is, but how fast they react and seize opportunity. In fact, some technologies offer smaller independents the opportunity to level the playing field between themselves and “big box” stores, if they pay attention to advances being made and carefully apply the right tools to their own operations.

Some of the most interesting and potentially game-changing trends take advantage of business intelligence (BI) applications as well as cutting-edge upgrades to point-of-sale systems and handheld ordering tools. BI mainly revolves around identifying, gathering and analyzing data to make better business decisions. Data such as sales revenue, product movement and associated costs are mined, processed and used to increase performance, create benchmarks, predict trends and respond to consumer buying patterns, to name just a few areas of application. This usually involves pulling data from multiple platforms such as point-of-sale and financial software applications, and then compiling the information into dashboards in order to generate reports and analytics. ECR Software is one POS company that is applying dashboard BI and additional technologies such as its “Supplier Gateway” to its point-of-sale systems, giving independent retailers direct links to manufacturers for order submission, auto receiving, price updates, database management and reporting advantages that used to be the domain of larger companies.

To support their retail customers, UNFI has introduced a family of advanced mobile solutions called “iUNFI”, available on three different handheld platforms. Depending on the chosen platform, retail customers can perform basic functions such as ordering and returning product, accessing product catalogs, shelf tag processing and promotional features, or by choosing a premium platform can add functions such as receiving price change notifications, available warehouse inventory, order history, planogram information, order tracking and sales analytics.

Digital Earth Network (DEN) is a digital and mobile technology company that is heavily involved in developing sophisticated mobile and social networking tools to help retailers and manufacturers reach directly out to consumers in order to affect their buying decisions while shopping. DEN is also creating mobile tools for reps and brokers that will help the order and manage accounts more efficiently, not only reducing the need for phone calls, faxes and paperwork, but also freeing them to be more effective at new item placement, education and retailer support. Increasingly, retailers are asking questions about things like product rankings, or demanding quicker updates on out of stocks and credits. With DEN’s new mobile tools, reps can source that information dynamically right on their smartphones or tablets and give immediate answers to the retailer.

All of these changes are bringing manufacturers and retailers closer to the consumer, helping them understand consumers buying patterns and trends, and enabling them to create much more effective marketing , coupon, and merchandising campaigns. Information that used to be cumbersome to resource and compile, and required a lot of time and personnel productivity to produce, is now available almost instantly in meaningful and readily manipulated formats.  At the rate technology is evolving, retailers and manufacturers can’t afford to be late adopters. If one waits too long, they are already behind the curve on the next paradigm shift in tools and applications that are changing the way we think, create and understand the business world around us.


Geoffrey Robinson is founder of Digital Earth Network, a leader in the emerging world of mobile and digital marketing content and associated applications. Geoffrey was the former founder of Eye Force Productions, a web based advertising company, and has an extensive professional background, particularly in the Natural Foods industry, in sales, marketing, business operations, consulting, Point of Sale technology and other related verticals.


Posted on WholeFoods Magazine Online, May. 1, 2012