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Why Retail Matters

Laura Heller, Editor, Retail Dive

CES has changed a lot in the 20 years since I began attending. Today, besides being a showcase for the latest and greatest in consumer technology, it looks at the products in context. One context is the changing nature of retail. In the past, retailers just came to the show to scope out new technologies. Now, they’re creating a new digital future for retail.

I was fortunate to see the first digital TV broadcast, the first digital cameras and the earliest DVR although the technology didn't have a name and we initially referred to it as simply "time-shifting technology."

The show itself has evolved a lot over the years. Consolidation among United States retailers has their ranks much reduced and the focus on consumer technology has expanded to include integrated technology and innovations across many more categories.

The role of the retailer at CES is more important than ever. Retailers don't just sell the technology on display each year to the end user, they are using technology in new ways. Most, in fact, are just as interested in being technology innovators as are the technology companies themselves.

Robots are being used to roam stores and monitor inventory in warehouses, self-driving cars and drones could alleviate current day delivery problems and block chain infrastructure is being looked at as the solution to modern payment issues.

There's the fun stuff – augmented reality, magic mirrors and smart shopping carts – and the utilitarian like RFID for tracking items available at stores to fill online orders more handily.

Mobile use has exploded as a shopping tool and smartphones were the most used device for online shopping during the 2017 Black Friday shopping week, with 41 percent of online shoppers using their smartphones to shop, according to research by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). It was a watershed moment as consumers finally converted from browsers to buyers.

And lest you think merchants are simply adopters of technology, think again. Research funds are being allocated to use augmented and virtual realities to create a better shopping experience; digital payments could open up access to capital to the tens of millions of consumers currently without even a bank account, let alone a credit card; and location-based technology is making marketing more efficient and useful to brands.

Electronic sales this holiday season are dominated by digital voice assistants and smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home. CTA projects these devices will sell 4.4 million united during the holiday season (up 22 percent over 2016). This will ultimately change how consumers interact with and shop for brands in the very near future.

Innovation labs created for, and operated by, retailers now dot Silicon Valley. Much of the technology on display at in Las Vegas each January for CES, will find its best use cases as retail applications. 

Retailers are set to take CES by storm, not just buyers who walk the show floor, but as innovators leading the charge.

Laura Heller is Editor of Retail Dive. She will serve as Emcee at the inaugural High-Tech Retailing Conference, a half-day conference that will look at how retailers are using technology to sell smarter, utilize data better and create stronger connections with consumers. Join industry experts and pioneers on Thursday, January 11 at CES 2018 taking place at Tech West, Venetian, Level 4, Lando 4302. See the full agenda and register here. Follow the High-Tech Retailing Conference with #HighTechRetailing.

Follow the entire CES conversation with #CES2018.