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Andria Cheng

At the NRF’s annual Big Show powwow in New York’s Javits Center last week,  seeing what kind of tech tools they should have in their arsenal was one key mission for retailers.

In retailers’ playbook to win your discerning dollars, technology is often billed as that magic bullet merchants hope can help win you as a customer. But is it?

Yes, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, data analytics, personalization and robotics still rank among 2018’s big sector tech buzzwords, but the retail industry is also coming to its senses about this: some tech bells and whistles don’t really deliver beyond their initial wow. Just look at the once-hot 3D printing or 3D TV buzz that has fizzled.

That reckoning was evident in last week’s “Retail’s Big Show,” hosted by trade group National Retail Federation at New York’s Javits Center. The annual powwow brought together 3,500 retailers and 900 tech and other exhibitors – from Microsoft to even Walmart – that sought to peddle their “retail solutions.”

“What I’m not seeing this year is a lot of gimmicks” like virtual fitting rooms, said Stacey Shulman, an industry veteran named last year to Intel retail solutions unit’s newly created chief innovation officer position. “I don’t think there’s a magic bullet in retail….What I’m starting to see is ‘Let’s get back to the basics.’ They may not be fun to talk about, but they solve real problems.”

Intel’s booth reflected that sentiment. Unlike last year, the chip giant this year didn’t feature any VR (virtual reality) demonstration, thanks partly to Shulman’s decision, she said in an interview.

“The use case isn’t at a point where VR can scale yet at retail,” said Shulman, who has attended the show for 15 years. One exception: many retailers have started to use VR to train employees, she said.

Intel, instead, featured such technology as RFID (radio frequency identification) and its overhead readers that are used by retailers including fashion label G-Star RAW to track store inventory in real time. It’s helped G-Star increase its “stock accuracy” level to nearly 100% from about 75% and helped it identify why an item may be consistently bypassed for purchase, said Patriek Den Haan, G-Star RAW’s project manager.

Intel also showcased robots that can scan shelf inventory to help free store employees from manual tasks so they can service customers, a common industry theme.

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