My Impressions Of NRF 2019 – From The Lens Of Digital Signage

January 16, 2019 by Dave Haynes

Sitting at Newark airport, heading back to East Coast Canada, after the National Retail Federation trade show in New York.

I don’t go every year, so I can’t pass on year to year impressions. But I have been several times, including 2 or 3 times in the last five years.

Crowd – Very busy Monday. A little pokey Tuesday (as it always is). Can’t speak for Sunday because of a seriously delayed flight down. Plane no workee, so I had to wait, wait, fly to Boston, wait, wait, and eventually …

New stuff – Probably tons and tons if you are in retail ops. I saw robotics, lots of demos of pay and go shopping, and all kinds of self-service terminals/screens/things. What seemed new there were screen-driven stations that enabled unattended returns at stores – the idea being that you could bring something back for return without talking to someone at a customer service counter. From what I saw there, the concept is a work in progress.

Pervasive stuff – Analytics. Everywhere. There must have been scores of companies offering solutions that analyzed the shopper journey in stores, or other aspects of store operations. There were pure-play guys. Retail solutions guys with partnered solutions. All the display guys who were there seemed to have something. Same with the top tier IT/consulting guys. And, of course, the handful of digital signage software and solutions companies there.

Mainstreaming stuff – Electronic Shelf Labels (ESL) were also all over the place. I must have seen 15-20 companies of all sizes – from North America, Europe, South Korea and, of course, China. They still look pretty much as they always have, though they do more. One interesting aspect was companies that were attaching IR sensors to the tags to report/estimate stock levels for the product on that shelf.

LCD/LED strips – Lotsa lotsa companies had versions of those skinny, custom cut LCD ribbons that would kinda sorta compete with ESLs. Arguably the most established in Instorescreen, but I say many others, including ones developed by ComQi’s parent company, Taiwanese panel maker AU.

Roll Call – I will forget names, but of the well-established and known companies in digital signage, the ones who had their own booths and significant presence were Stratacache (huge booth up front on the main level), Hughes (big booth with sniper nest/meeting space on a 2nd level), ComQi (front row on the lower level), Samsung and NEC. LG was not officially there, but I met several LG people, one happily hanging around the Samsung booth??? Crown TV had a small booth, so did Perch Interactive, and there were others I am forgetting (sorry). I’d say Stratacache won the digital signage contest, with booth, lots of people and a well-attended, nicely-done party on Monday night. Riegel also had a bar set-up thing that mashed up interactive screens and robotics to make drinks in the booth.

Missing In Action (Mostly) – Two years ago, virtual reality was very buzzy. In 2019, not so much. It was around, particularly in the innovation lab (start-ups/teeny budgets), but not all that much on the floor. My take, as it has long been, is VR in its current iteration is a bit of a non-starter for actual shopping, but very useful for store design and planning. There was very little evidence, anywhere, of augmented reality. I was very curious about interactivity using voice, but I saw almost nothing. I keep hearing/reading how voice will change everything, but if you have a Google Home or Alexa or whatever, you know it is also a work in progress.

Coffee – I dunno how many booths had coffee/baristas, but many. The Hughes booth made me a few lattes, which was kind and merciful. So if you are thinking you need to stand in a 20-minute line at the lobby Starbucks, good coffee is fast and free at many spots inside the exhibit hall.

Should You Exhibit? – Tough call. New York is expensive in every way. Stratacache’s presence was well north of a million. One whale client pays for that, if the account is landed, but … If your vertical is clearly retail, then yeah. I wasn’t paying attention to badges, but I saw lots of names of giant retailers – including ones from overseas. If retail is not a core vertical or you don’t have product that serves that market’s needs, probably not. There are a LOT of booths at NRF and the smaller guys didn’t exactly looked swarmed.

Should You Attend? – Again, if your vertical is retail, then sure. I bumped into tons of industry friends looking around, walking clients around, or using the show to get a few meetings in. If retail is not your thing, be warned that there are aisles and aisles of companies selling stuff like thermal printers and money counters and everything else that rolls up into retail tech. I wouldn’t bother, were I not eternally curious and a glutton for travel punishment.

Pro Tips – Factor in going on Tuesday. It is way quieter than Monday, which is a madhouse with people from NYC taking an Uber over from their offices. You can now stay further afield from the Javits Center because the 7 train goes into Hudson Yards (across the street). Fast. Cheap. Painless.

Practical matters – Despite the gov’t shutdown in the U.S., TSA screening at Newark was fast and painless. I made a point of genuinely thanking the TSA passport-checker for showing up, even with no paycheck in sight.

Next trip – ISE in Amsterdam.


  1. Maybe the main floor is slower on Monday but level 1 just below it was much busier Monday. I was struck by first floor being mostly enterprise retail app stuff and level one having all the tactical toys.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Dave. We were looking for three mega brands for ADA working group and got Hilfiger, NY Mets, apple, taco Bell and whole foods. The AWS middleware developers next to us for retail client of AWS is great new intercompany tool.

Leave a comment