February 4, 2004, 12:00 AM

Vendors see signs of the much-awaited rebound in retail technology

The mood among vendors in the exhibit hall at the annual NRF convention in New York City last month was definitely more upbeat than in recent years.

It’s been a long trek across the desert for many technology vendors targeting the retail industry. But an oasis may be in sight-if not the actual fertile valley many are hoping is just ahead. The mood among vendors in the exhibit hall at the annual NRF convention in New York City last month was definitely more upbeat than in recent years. “There’s no question pocketbooks are opening,” says Donny Askin, president and CEO of CommecialWare Inc., developer of software for cross-channel retailing. “Not long ago, nobody would buy unless there was a 6- to 12-month ROI. Now people are taking a longer view.”

Other vendors also noticed that phenomenon as they talked to executives, both during their regular sales calls in the past few months and on the exhibit floor of the convention. “IT spending has become very strategic in nature,” says Tilman Estes, senior director, product management for Manhattan Associates Inc. Manhattan Associates released a web-based suite of logistics solutions at the conference.

Perhaps another sign of the promise that the market holds today is the vendors who are either entering the market for the first time or have re-sharpened their focus on retailing. Yantra Corp., for one, has hired a new vice president of retail, Hunter Harris. “This is the first time we are getting out a retail-specific message,” says Harris, former executive with SAP America’s Retail Group and of Retek Inc. Yantra unveiled a POS solution with Triversity Inc. that brings together order management, checkout, inventory management and returns on one platform. Harris says Yantra is experiencing what other vendors have noticed: “If there wasn’t a one-month return, nobody was going to buy,” he says. “Now retailers are thinking more strategically.”

Similarly, CommercialWare is making a move from focusing on the direct merchants-it’s big in the catalog industry-to including store retailers in its product line-up. It used the NRF convention to release its new CWLocate product, which employs a web-based infrastructure connected to point-of-sale devices to locate inventory anywhere in an enterprise. Another exhibitor, Manugistics Inc., has re-structured to focus on the retail market and now considers retail one of its growth areas, says Chris Verheuvel, vice president of retail.

The vendors’ optimistic outlook was backed up by a study from the NRF Foundation and consultants BearingPoint Inc. which reports a higher level of interest among retailers in technology spending. For instance, 83% of retailers are expecting to replace or upgrade their POS systems. “With continued momentum in the economy, now is the time for businesses to invest in new technology,” said Tracy Mullin, NRF president and CEO. “Retailers who choose to invest today will be rewarded tomorrow.”

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