The annual Retail Solutions Show took place at Birmingham's NEC last week and this year saw an increase in visitors from big-name high street retailers.
The most notable entrant was BT's retail division, Expedite, which marked its debut by occupying the largest stand at the show. However, there were no announcements from the telecoms giant; it had come to the show to explain to customers and the industry the rationale behind the acquisition of NSB's UK assets.
Other exhibitors, however, were showing new wares. Chip and PIN solutions, such a dominant force last year, were less well represented. This undoubtedly reflects the waning interest that the technology has for the retail community as the January 1, 2005 deadline approaches.
The decrease in Chip and PIN's profile at the show sup-ports commentators' assessments that retailers who are taking the deadline seriously have already taken steps to be ready, and those that are not prepared are not interested in finding out about the products available. One exception was the launch of a pre-accredited Chip and PIN solution in a box from Commidea.
PCMS's loss-prevention solution, launched last year, was joined by at least two newcomers at this year's show. Island Pacific debuted its loss prevention system, and so did Navision reseller Alpha Landsteinar. Again, this seems to be reflecting a trend in the market, because the detection of fraud by staff has been one of the hot technologies this year.
'For many retailers, it's a no-brainer,' said Island Pacific managing director for Europe Mike Dotson. 'The companies that invest in this sort of solution can see very short returns on investment and an immediate impact on their profits.'
Another technology showcased with a potential fraud-busting application is the biometric EPoS log-on from NCR. This small fingerprint scanner is integrated into the screen of the till, and the operator scans their fingerprint to start operating the till. The company is pushing the technology's effect on admin and time and attendance reporting, but acknowledges that it will also stop a fraudster covering their tracks by logging on as someone else. NCR is understood to be undertaking laboratory tests of the technology with McDonald's.
Biometrics, while still a nascent methodology in retailing, gained a foothold in the show this year, not just on NCR's stand, but also from the first appearance of US fingerprint payment authorisation specialist Pay by Touch.
A hot subject for retailers over the past 12 months has been the benefits - real or imaginary - of digital signage. Many different types of Digital media were in evidence at the show.
One of the biggest attractions was the 3D virtual shop shown by EDS.
Visitors were taken through a virtual reality representation of a store, wearing cardboard 3D glasses. The application is an attempt to help decision-making at the design stage of a store build or refit.
More conventional digital media was provided by suppliers such as Sony, Mitsubishi and IBM. The exhibitors at Sony were also showcasing a method of tracking customers as they pass within the scope of a camera - Sony's system can measure footfall to a much more sophisticated level than merely how many people pass through the doors.
IBM's digital signage offering, Scala, can be integrated with a store's EPoS so store managers can react quickly to rival's pricing changes by setting up their own promotions on the fly.
The system is being tested by German perfume and cosmetics retailer Douglas and is on trial at the Metro Future Store in Rheinberg, Germany.
IBM EMEA head of retail Fraser Davidson pointed out that the ability to alter digital signage on the fly in line with price changes at the EPoS is the second stage of the adoption of digital signage in retail.
According to Davidson, the third stage is signage with which customers can also interact. IBM is trialling just such a solution, again in Rheinberg, but it was not on show at the stand. Maybe next year.