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An NRF ‘Big Show’ Conference: It’s All About Impact


The annual NRF (National Retail Federation) Retail expo and conference in New York is fast upon us, and like most of the support community that surrounds the Retail industry (that includes technology and service providers, integrators and consultants, analyst organizations, and the press), the RSR team has been getting ready for our annual trek to the Big City. Although the NRF is a U.S.-based trade association, the allure of the event goes far beyond the American borders, and so the event is truly global in nature. In fact, the NRF estimates that about 30% of the attendees will be “international”. So to put it plainly, the Big Show is a big deal.

In fact it’s so big that it consumes every square inch of New York’s Javitt’s Center. It is easy to think of it as a gigantic technology trade show (Ed. Note: stay tuned for RSR’s post-NRF review of the Expo at the end of this month). But it is far more than that, and the event’s conference side is where the event’s roots are and is still arguably one its most important features. While it’s been many years since the event was for trade association members only, the objective of the conference remains to be a forum for practitioners to share ideas on a wide range of industry-specific topics.

To understand more about what the conference will offer, we reached out to the NRF’s Vice President of Education Strategies, Eric Olson for a “pre-briefing”. The theme for this year’s event is IMPACT, and according to Eric, “it takes a look at the retail industry’s impact on macro-economic factors like GDP and consumer sentiment – all the key indicators that originate around the Retail industry. We believe that this particular show itself, since it convenes at this time of year after retailers have had their holiday season and are about to report their holiday numbers, is a great time to show what Retail’s impact is on the global economy and on consumers’ lives. But it’s also an opportunity to show how technologies are enhancing consumers’ connections with retailers. ‘IMPACT’ is how we’re galvanizing the content.”

Eric explained how the conference is aligned along five “pillars”. Those “pillars” are the consumer experience, operations, talent and culture, globalism, and community. Said Eric, “we’ve been very direct in linking our sessions and speakers to those pillars.”

When it comes to the “main tent” speakers, Eric explained, “we always try to ‘theme’ each day, but because of the busy schedules of executives and personalities, we don’t always get the opportunity to line up the speaker with the day’s theme, but we have a great lineup of speakers for this year. On our opening day, Sunday, we have invited NRF board member, Ed Stack, Chairman and CEO for DICK’s Sporting Goods, who has made a very principled decision to stop selling assault-style weapons and to no longer sell guns to anyone under the age of 21. This is in the wake of so many terrible mass shootings this past year, particularly the Parkland, Florida high school shooting that left 17 people dead. This won’t be the sole focus of his fireside chat, but is part of his overarching mission to lead his family-owned company with conviction and purpose beyond the expectations within a particular segment of retailing. In another example, through its Sports Matters initiative, DICK’s is on a mission to save youth sports from the billions of dollars in funding cuts across school athletic programs, giving kids in public high schools access to play and remain active in team-oriented sports, and helping vulnerable teens stay out of trouble. I think Ed’s discussion will be sure to have the audience stand up and applaud.”

When talking about the talent & culture theme, Eric said, “‘Diversity and inclusion’ is starting to build within retail organizations, and so we will have a grouping of really interesting retailers that come to it from different perspectives. The talk – also on Sunday – will be moderated by Shannon Schuyler, the Chief Purpose Officer at PwC and head of the company’s CEO Action Initiative, and will include James Fripp, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at YUM! Brands, Lars Petersson, President of IKEA U.S., and Carolyn Tastad, the Executive Sponsor of Gender Equality at P&G.”

The NRF “Big Show” has always been able to attract big-name speakers such as presidents, prime ministers, and best-selling authors. This year, Chip and Joanna Gaines, cable TV’s “power couple” from the show Fixer Upper, will share their thoughts about“balancing business and creativity to make a cultural connection”. Said Eric, “there’s a purpose to having them speak; Chip and Jo are people with passion for what they do, and now they are extending it beyond the TV show. They’ll be able share with the audience how they are building the Magnolia brand, balancing business and creativity to create cultural connections with consumers. This is real community-building that we think retailers can really learn from. They’re awesome, and we’re really excited that they agreed to do this!”

The overall approach of the NRF’s theme oriented conference content is positive, uplifting. But there are myriad operational issues that retailers have to contend with as well. So we asked, what are the concerns that the NRF has for retailers in the coming year that the organization is trying to address through the event? According to Eric, “it all goes back to the theme of IMPACT and the five pillars. Retail drives a lot of job growth, which drives the housing market, etc. How are rising interest rates affecting consumers and retailers? How will BREXIT affect global trade? We have former Federal Reserve Chair, Dr. Janet Yellen in on Monday to talk about how to navigate in uncertain economic times. We hope to foster a good dialogue about some of the trade and regulatory issues in the world right now, and how retail will operate in the current climate.”

Eric continued: “And what about China? They haven’t had the same kinds of barriers that campanies in more mature markets have had, and they don’t have the same regulatory structures to contend with. To a certain extent, Chinese consumers have given up a lot of privacy rights… but that kind of environment also opens up the market adoption of new techs like AI, robotics, chat commerce, and drone delivery. In the U.S., we talk about how these things are maybe five years out – but in China, it’s a reality and it’s happening. So we have a China deep-dive on Tuesday morning with The message is, their consumer of today is our consumer of tomorrow. If you can look at China today, you can plan for the future here in the U.S.- it’s coming hard and fast!”

Go To The Conference Too!

The NRF Big Show features a LOT of glilttery state-of-the-art technology, and trying to go through all the Expo floor booths and spend time in the Innovation Lab can easily eat up every minute of your time there. But treat yourself to the conference side too! Eric and the NRF conference team have built a solid agenda, well worth your time.

Click here for a link to the Conference agenda.



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Articles & Opinions January 7, 2019
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