NRF convention presents itself in person again amid looming uncertainties – WWD

A smaller but still sizable crowd of retailers, tech companies, vendors, industry analysts and consultants head to the Javits Center in New York City next week for the returning National Retail Federation Convention and Expo. to its in-person format this year after going virtual last year due to the pandemic.

Organizers said the annual event will have between 20,000 and 25,000 registered attendees, compared to 40,000 registered for the 2020 NRF in-person convention. The number of exhibitors – 775 versus 825 for the January live event 2020 – and the square footage of exhibit space – 225,000 square feet compared to 275,000 two years ago is down a bit.

“I feel good with the numbers,” NRF president and CEO Matt Shay told WWD of the upcoming convention. “There is a lot of fluidity in the way people think and in their decision-making regarding travel plans, but we still have a very strong engagement from the retail community, as well as a lot of enthusiasm and support for New York. It is a great event.

Some of the registrants might decide not to show up due to the recent spike in the Omicron variant, although the NRF has tightened health protocols for its convention, including requiring participants to be fully immunized and wear face masks. interior. Shay said it would be easier to distance oneself socially as the Javits Center has grown and will have a smaller crowd. In addition, the NRF will provide attendees and exhibitors with rapid COVID-19 self-tests, as well as access to PCR testing at the Javits Center. There’s also an improved ventilation system in Javits, hand sanitizer stations, and “plenty of room to move around,” Shay said. “I feel really good in this environment.”

People will come to “Retail’s Big Show,” as the event is called, seeking expert answers on the big questions of the day. This time around, it’s about navigating COVID-19; supply chain challenges and labor shortages; design pricing strategies in a context of record inflation; determine the most important technologies in which to invest; promote omnichannel integrations; establishing market formats; engage in cross-border trade; increasing shareholder value, corporate social responsibility and inclusion. In a climate of extreme uncertainty, the industry is hungry for ideas on how retail might play out in 2022.

The Big Show is also a place for networking, although given the COVID-19 situation, there will be less. The NRF’s “Honors” dinner, which raises funds for scholarships, has been postponed until April 13 at the Marriott Marquis in New York. In years past, dinner was held during the convention.

Executives from some of the world’s largest retailers and influential organizations will debut on the Big Show’s main stage. This list of speakers includes Pete Nordstrom, President and Brand Director of Nordstrom Inc., and several CEOs: Corie Barry of Best Buy Co. Inc .; Nancy Green of Old Navy; Elizabeth Spaulding of Stitch Fix; Rodrigo Bazan of Thom Browne; IBM’s Arvind Krishna; Javier Quinones of Ikea US; Vivek Sankaran of Albertsons; Steven Williams of PepsiCo Foods North America and Amy Errett, founder of Madison Reed.

Other industry leaders are expected to speak: John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart US; Brian Cornell, CEO of Target Corp .; Patrice Louvet, CEO of Ralph Lauren Corp. ; Marvin Ellison, CEO of Lowe’s Cos. Inc .; Mindy Grossman, CEO of WW International, and James Fripp, Head of Equity and Inclusion, Yum Brands.

With the exception of a handful of speakers, all presentations will be live, Shay said.

The event runs Sunday through Tuesday and is Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday. “We have a whole program on diversity, equity and inclusion. The retail industry creates opportunities for people from all walks of life to advance in their careers, ”said Shay.

The NRF’s “innovation laboratory” has been enlarged compared to previous years and offers new technologies, in particular artificial intelligence, augmented reality, machine learning, facial recognition, robotics, 3D food printing and more.

The ‘Startup Zone’ has also been expanded to showcase 49 new businesses, and there will be tours of the exhibit and store tours of Hudson Yards, the American Dream mega retail and entertainment center in East Rutherford. , NJ, and Manhattan’s SoHo and NoHo neighborhoods.

“It’s an unusual time because of the uncertainty the Omicron variant has injected into the economy,” Shay acknowledged. Yet, “As we look to the year ahead, we have very [financially] healthy consumers with substantial savings and purchasing power, increasing net worth and rising wages.

“There is reason to believe that economic growth and expansion will continue and that retailers can play a substantial role in the expansion,” Shay added. “But that needs to be balanced against the recognition of some challenges – a tight labor market that contributes to wage increases and overall inflationary pressures due in large part to substantial demand and stretched supply chains. In the short term, Omicron made matters worse. But people are acknowledging the data and the science that shows Omicron is moving fairly quickly through the population without severe levels of illness, hospitalization, or death. We are moving from a pandemic to an endemic, ”Shay said, which means it’s possible that COVID-19, in a medical sense like the common cold, is still here.

Based on information provided by the medical profession: “We believe the Omicron wave will run out in the next four to six weeks,” Shay said.

Asked about the main concerns of retailers, Shay cited the fiscal environment and inflation, and said the NRF has worked closely with the Biden administration on supply chain issues and lobbying to keep the current corporate tax rate and oppose potential increases in President Biden’s proposal. “Build back better” program.

“The Tax Reform Act of 2017 created a much more competitive tax system for the United States compared to competitors around the world and made retailers more competitive compared to other industries,” Shay said. “The 21% corporate tax rate has given retailers the ability to invest in their businesses, make strategic planning decisions for the future, and invest in people. This is one of the reasons we have seen retailers perform at such a high level over the past 22 months, ”despite COVID-19. “We were paying taxes at the top with the rate of 35%. The retail sector is healthier now thanks to the 2017 tax reform bill. ”

The NRF is also pushing for a higher degree of coordination and information sharing between segments of the supply chain, be they shippers, truckers or ports. “The administration can set the tone for this to happen,” Shay said.

“Overall, supply chain trends are improving,” Shay said. “What we’re seeing now has more to do with Omicron. The supply chain issues will not be fully resolved until after this year. For the coming year, we will still experience a certain imbalance between supply and demand. We have a supply economy built for 3% growth on an annual basis, ”Shay said more or less. “But we saw 30% growth in cargo based on container traffic, on a two-year basis. The supply chain has done quite well in the face of this problem.

The government will release its December retail sales report on Friday. Earlier this week, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Lululemon cited inventory shortages in December, pushing their weekend sales down below expectations.

But Shay suggested that retailers citing December deficits were industry exceptions and not representative of what most retailers have experienced. “This holiday season many of our members, a substantial number of retail businesses, were in much better inventory than a year ago. I think the December retail sales report will be very positive. “

When asked where retailers would invest the most in 2022, Shay replied, “Number one is the health and safety of their teams and customers and creating a healthy store environment. Large investments will also continue in the workforce, to continue the company’s digital transformation and all that eliminates the friction of execution, ”including same day deliveries, curbside pickups. and stores that ship home orders.

“COVID-19 has forced retailers to think differently about real estate and different ways of using stores to engage consumers, for fulfillment, pickup and inventory management. It’s all part of this digital transformation.

During the pandemic, “The retail industry has really intensified,” Shay said. “These frontline workers are truly the unsung heroes of this recovery. We’ve seen retailer after retailer invest billions of dollars with increased wages, medical support, bonuses, time off policies. These investments in the workforce are among the main reasons retailers were able to navigate COVID-19 as quickly as they did, despite the tragic number of deaths and hospitalizations.

“Consumers hopefully appreciate front-line retail workers more, while executives have always appreciated that retail is a people business. Prior to COVID-19, throughout 2019 and into early 2020, salaries for the lowest paid members of the retail workforce were growing faster than other segments, ”added Shay. “There is a great level of competition for talent and for skilled and skilled workers. Retailers that offer incentives, perks, compensation opportunities, and career advancement will perform best. “

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