Mercator Perspectives

NRF’s Big Show Field Report

Another year has passed and retailers flush with holiday-shopping revenue converged on New York City this past week for the National Retail Federation’s "Big Show." Vendors serving every aspect of the retail space were there in force, demoing products and spreading their brands' equity with New Years' resolution.

Providers of payment technology and services were there too, of course, and I was lucky enough to meet with several over the course of two days and 19 prearranged briefings, a dozen informal booth visits, and countless hallway interactions with familiar faces, Starbucks-line complaining-sessions, and one memorable shuttle-bus note-trading confab. Not bad, but I think I only scratched the surface of the 25,000 attendees, exhibitors, and miscellaneous hangers-on.

A theme that I always seem to come back to was highlighted again at the trade show to end all retail commerce-related trade shows (it puts our industry's core trade shows to shame): Innovation. "Yes, yes," you say, "there he goes again." My favorite analytical touchstone was once again front-and-center in every interaction, as ingenious point-of-sale software was demoed, slick looking hardware drop-tested, and business cards traded with an assurance of "I've got someone I think you should talk to about that."

Firms I met with tended to present their own unique flavors of innovation by revolving around three immediately identifiable themes: security, payment acceptance, and analytics. The third theme was everywhere. I seemingly heard the phrase "data is at the core of everything we do" at least a dozen times, and solutions that "leveraged big data analytics" were roughly 87 times as prevalent as last year.

Software development house Chetu was an interesting find, with several well known payments industry and e-commerce brands highlighted on an LCD screen in the company's booth. In my conversation with the sales representative stationed there, I learned the firm's clients are able to claim creative rights on the software that Chetu develops, since the IP is sold in total to the client once the program is built. This lets firms in the payment space identify new and innovative solutions they bring to market as "built and developed in-house," "proprietary technology," or otherwise wholly theirs. I have a few ideas about some of the projects they may have worked on for firms in our space (specifically on the card-acceptance side), but the booth guy kept mum.

Another discovery was analytics platform vendor 1010 Data, which hosts over a trillion rows of data for the NYSE, and whose product offers an "Excel-like" user interface that enables data analysts to fully manipulate data sets far more vast than a traditional spreadsheet could reasonably manage. Through a partnership with Equifax, 1010 Data’s analytics platform comes to the credit bureau’s customers packaged with Equifax Marketing Data Suites. The product consists of individual and household marketing data that can be examined through the analytics platform in five dimensions: financials, demographics, purchases, lifestyles, and life events. As account acquisition in the credit card space continues to gain steam, these types of analytics solutions are playing a larger role than in years past.

The third running theme of the show (for me, at least)—security—was highlighted in several briefings, but one that stood out involved the Center for Internet Security (CIS), a non-profit organization headquartered in New York’s Capital District. CIS provides security benchmarks for computing device configurations. In other words, if you need to know the most secure way to configure devices in your IT network (see PCI DSS Requirement 2.2), CIS are the guys to ask. The folks I spoke with from CIS said I wasn’t the first one they ran into at the show to ask about POS devices and whether they were included in the firm’s benchmarks, but that my inquiry made it all the more apparent that they should seriously consider benchmarking them. That could be a welcome development for acquirers saddled with training a level 4 merchant population that befuddled by the complexity of PCI.

Thank you, New York, you are always a wonderful crowd.

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