This year's fall Customer Engagement Technology World show in New York City faced a daunting set of circumstances just to open its doors after Superstorm Sandy pummeled the east coast last week.
And while some exhibitors have pulled out entirely or reduced the number of people they're sending, the show is set to open tomorrow — and Show Manager Lawrence Dvorchik has continued to relay information from New York City's officials about the state of the city, in order to reassure exhibitors and attendees alike, and to say the show must go on.
While it appears that essential services have been restored to the area around the Javits Center, home to CETW, there are concerns about the state of the city in the storm's aftermath and as the weather forecast takes a turn for the ugly this week.
Still, the show IS going on, so here are five key things to look for at this year's second CETW:
(Editor's note: The following is based on best available knowledge of what is scheduled for CETW NYC 2012, and what has been announced publicly about who is still attending. It appears, though, that the situation remains fluid, and could change before, or even after, the show opens Nov. 7.)
1. New faces, and a broader spectrum
Customer Engagement Technology World — formerly known as KioskCom and The Digital Signage Show — has changed. While it has still been dominated by kiosk, self-service and digital signage companies, show manager Dvorchik said in a recent phone interview that this year's fall show covers much more ground.
The show's "Mobile Engagement Zone" is set to be twice the size of the one at the spring CETW show in San Francisco, he said, and the show's educational sessions and floor booths cover a broader range of customer-centric technologies and solutions, from data analysis to customer experience management to loyalty and customer relationship management.
"We've really transformed the show floor," Dvorchik said, adding that show organizers dedicated themselves to making sure the show's educational session themes matched up with the themes previous show attendees told them they wanted to see.
"I think it's the most comprehensive, best content program we've put together, and I think it's the most diverse set of solutions on the floor that we've ever put together, cross-technology, cross-solution, cross-platform. There's a lot of excitement."
2. Macy's on parade
Mike Tobin, the senior vice president of omnichannel strategy for retail giant Macy's, is scheduled to deliver the show's third keynote on Wednesday afternoon, "Changing the Retail Model: Satisfying Customer Demand — Anywhere, Anytime, and in New Ways."
According to the description on the CETW website, "Macy's continues to prosper as one of the nation's most successful and respected retail institutions by adapting and flowing with new demands. Most recently, Macy's has been a leader in the retail industry's migration to omnichannel. The rate at which consumers are embracing digital experiences in all aspects of their life is unprecedented, and winning retailers will use digital technologies to improve the shopping experience for their customers wherever and however they choose to shop: @home, @work, on-the-go and @store. Macy's believes the key is a seamlessly connected experience that not only responds to shoppers' real needs but also fits their expectation of a life made easier through digital, and their expectation of Macy's."
In this keynote, Tobin is going to focus on digital in-store and will discuss topics such as "Omni-Why?" and "Unlocking all of your inventory: 'Do you have ... ?' The answer is 'Yes,'" as well as "How Macy's is reshaping the customer-sales associate relationship through digital technology."
"One of the things that I'll be saying the first morning to everybody is, we've got Michael Tobin from Macy's coming up here," Dvorchik said. "Take a walk over to 34th Street and check out Macy's and all they're doing in-store, because he's going to be talking about it tomorrow afternoon. So we're very excited about that."
3. Mobile, mobile, mobile
This year's show is heavy on the mobile. From mobile marketing to mobile payments, from mobile web and marketing to combining social, mobile and kiosks to measuring mobile for social intelligence, the show is packed with mobile-focused exhibitors, sessions and educational opportunities. With companies such as MokiMobility, Mobiquity, Ivytalk, Phizzle and iSIGN on hand to show attendees how to use location-based, mobile, social and digital technologies to engage consumers, expect plenty of people to walk by with their face glued to the screen in their hand.
Gamification — or making consumer engagement into a game or a video game to increase interaction and engagement rates — is a trending topic in the digital signage, mobile, branding and retail engagement spaces. And CETW along with one of its mobile exhibitors is bringing gamification to the show.
CETW worked with technology provider Phizzle to have a gamification program at CETW called the Phizzle Points Program, in which every show attendee will have the chance to participate, Dvorchik said.
"All they have to do is activate their phone ... and by activating their phone, every exhibitor that they meet with has a unique code and if they text that code in they get a certain number of points; every tour has a code, they get points; every time they tweet with the hashtag once they're registered, they accumulate points, and those points go into the different giveaways we're having at the end of each day."
And at the end of the two days of the show, there will be a grand prize drawing open to everyone who accumulated points in the game, he said.
"The whole premise behind it is using a mobile-based game to engage with customers," and to encourage attendees to meet with more exhibitors and to interact with more events at the show, he said. "Gamification is something we're talking about at the show and also putting into play as a live-action program at the show."
According to an exhibitor who was in the Javits Center earlier today setting up, the reality may not be as rosy as the picture painted by show organizers.
According to the exhibitor, the Javits looks as though it "was flooded until just a couple days ago," mostlikely in the lower level where CETW is generally held.
"The show floor has been reduced to four aisles, each only about 150 yards long," he wrote in an email. "Looks like they lost quite a few exhibitors."
This exhibitor also said his company's booth was still undelivered, and that many of the booth accessories "were lost in the flooded show warehouse."
"It's pretty crazy," he said by phone from the show floor. "There's just a little bit of chaos here."
And another exhibitor, kiosk company Frank Mayer and Associates, posted this on its website today:
Due to complications with the recent hurricane in New York, we regret to inform you that our booth and contents were badly damaged beyond repair. Our staff is currently working with the CETW show to deliver the best show possible under these circumstances. We assure you we will have staff there to discuss the latest in interactive technology, kiosks and much more.
During this time, and as we continue with our efforts at the CETW show, our thoughts and prayers are with those families and businesses affected by the Hurricane and the relief efforts during this difficult time.
And then there's the weather.
New York City is still cleaning up after Superstorm Sandy, and there's another severe storm on the horizon. A nor'easter is heading toward New York, with rain forecast to move in early on Wednesday and get heavier throughout the day, according to CNN:
As the day goes on, the weather will get worse, with daytime temperatures hovering in the 40s. At night it could get down to the 20s — bad news for the 127,000 customers who are still without power, according to Con Edison. Working round the clock, the company said Tuesday that more than 846,000 customers who lost power — 87 percent — have it again.
A nor'easter is a strong low pressure system with powerful northeasterly winds coming from the ocean ahead of a storm. Predicted 60-mph gusts could further damage the already ravaged Jersey Shore. Coastal flooding and beach erosion are possible.
Of course there's a strong concern for everyone's safety, too. Sandy left 110 people dead in the United States, and on its way to U.S. shores, it took the lives of 69 people.
"When it rains, it pours. When it storms, you get more storms, I guess," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Under normal conditions, the nor'easter wouldn't be problematic, he said, but because many areas are still picking up the pieces from last week, it could cause fresh havoc.
On Monday, authorities in Brick, New Jersey, ordered residents in the low-lying waterfront areas of town to leave.
The storm is not another Sandy, and its path and severity could change, according to CNN meteorologists.
Also in the same CNN story:
Signs that people are working hard to move on after Sandy can be found across New York.
Construction work started again Monday at the 9/11 ground zero site, which was flooded by Sandy.
Some 94 percent of schools in New York City were open Monday, according to the mayor, and the subway system is back in operation. New York officials said they are investigating reports of price gouging after receiving hundreds of complaints from consumers who say business owners have jacked up prices on hotel rooms, generators, food and water.
It's anyone's guess at this point how many of the show's expected attendees will end up showing up, and to some degree the same apparently could be said of a significant number of the show's exhibitors. Either way, for better or worse, this year's CETW should definitely be a memorable one.
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/ Christopher is the managing director of the Interactive Customer Experience Association and former editor of DigitalSignageToday.com. A longtime freelance writer and reporter, he's bringing a fresh perspective and critical take on the industry.