NRF Big Show 2022: Retail is Accelerating, Humanizing, and Getting More High-Tech

Despite the aggressive omicron variant, the largest retail industry expo in the US, the “NRF 2022 Retail’s Big Show” was held in New York with a high turnout of visitors and exhibitors.

The National Retail Federation event included 700 exhibits, 190 sessions, and more than 300 speakers. Leaders from Walmart, Target, Nordstrom, Albertsons Supermarkets, Saks Fifth Ave, IKEA, Ralph Lauren, IBM, Deloitte, Morgan Stanley, and Forrester, were among them.

The event expanded the “Innovation Lab” and “Startups” exhibit halls to showcase the latest technologies and new ventures. A “Food Service Tech” stage and an “Ecommerce” pavilion were also included. But what stood out the most was the hall dedicated to “FQ Equality,” where they offered talks oriented to diversity, inclusion, and equity, as well as promoting the product offerings of small minority businesses.

The central theme of the National Retail Federation event focused on explaining how commerce has accelerated post-pandemic.

Customers are returning to stores, and retailers continue to move forward to meet their changing needs and innovate to serve them faster and more conveniently, such as buy online and pick up in-store or home delivery.

Brian Cornell, Board Chairman and CEO,
Target Corp. (left) and Matthew Shay, President and CEO, National Retail Federation (right). Photo credit: National Retail Federation

Now, companies are looking to merge digital and physical shopping and increase the use of video to create more robust and immersive retail experiences.

Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF, reinforced the essential role of retail in people’s lives to ensure safe and secure access to food, medicine, and other goods.

Studies indicate that 80% of consumers value convenience. They are the ones who decide where to shop, how they want to shop when they want to shop, and through which channel, online or in-store. Therefore, many talks reinforced the importance of focusing marketing on customers.

Retail Accelerates

Retail sales grew by a remarkable 14%, a recovery for 20 consecutive months. Retail reached its highest level in a decade in the second quarter with more than one million stores in the United States.

But what’s most striking in the industry are commercial applications that averaged more than 80 monthly in 2021, and that’s more than double the average than in 2019.

Also, it’s the first time that per capita consumption, as a percentage of disposable income, has been at its lowest point since the 1970s. Inflation is definitely affecting consumers’ pocketbooks, but despite this, some of the population is saving more.

Food sales in physical stores continue to grow as more people work from home and eat there. Also, a new market appears, such as the Metaverse, a virtual world where personalized avatars can work, have fun, and interact.

Related Article: Omicron Might Cause More Inflation in 2022

During the conferences, Ralph Lauren CEO Patrice Louvet commented that the company is adapting to this new consumer. He said that they had sold more than 100,000 units of clothing online in just a few weeks, so they plan to open a store in the Metaverse. For the company, this is a strategy to attract young buyers.

The final message from Mathew Shay, the CEO of the National Retail Federation, is to be ready to accelerate in 2022, no matter what circumstances are faced.

The NRF will continue to advocate for the retail industry’s success by supporting cybersecurity projects, protecting corporate taxes, IT privacy, improving international trade relations, and investing in infrastructure to improve the supply chain with a $1.2 billion investment for rail, bridges, and roads. This last initiative is an endorsement of the new policy to address the trucker crisis.

Photo Gallery “NRF 2022 Retail’s Big Show”

Retail Becomes More Humane

Another subject that many speakers emphasized was the human factor in retailing, the importance of people to store operations. They talked about leadership, strategies to attract and retain talent, training, customer loyalty, inclusion, diversity, and equity. Speakers included the CEOs of PepsiCo Foods, The Vitamin Shop, and Albertsons Supermarkets, among others.

Since Target was the company that won the award as the best supermarket in 2021, they interviewed their CEO, Brian Cornell. He commented that his formula for success in hiring employees in these challenging times is a commitment to the culture of caring for his team and ensuring they are doing the right thing for them. 

Cornell said that at Target, they strive to be empathetic and make every effort to understand what their employees are facing both personally and professionally.

Their philosophy is to grow and win together, to attract and retain great talent. That is their challenge, and hence the importance of the company’s purpose.

Carla Harris, Vice President of Wealth Management at Morgan Stanley, shared with the audience some tips on how to be a powerful, influential, and impactful leader.

First, you have to listen to the voice of your employees, provide them with options, and be a transparent and clear organization to gain the trust of your employees.

Harris acknowledged that employee turnover is very costly, and in a tight labor market environment where profit margins are falling, you have to avoid employee turnover. Therefore, organizations must align themselves with the purposes of the new generations, with a relevant value proposition, and renew their values such as social justice, diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Companies must provide opportunities to grow and eventually elevate their employees.

NRF highlighted the “” initiative, a coalition creating one million jobs for African American talent in the United States. They are currently working with major employers to eliminate college degree requirements for hiring.

Retail Becomes More High-Tech

Understaffing, merchandise shortages, and a consumer more willing to shop online are driving the increase in technological innovations in retail. According to Euromonitor, “72% of global retail professionals say the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of their companies,” especially to optimize processes such as inventory. 

According to IBM CEO Arvind Krishna, about 25% of all in-store inventory is massively marked down because it is unsold, undersold, or transferred to other stores. That’s why systems and operations need to be more efficient, accurate, and faster to have real-time data. To do this, retailers should consider investing in systems.

Sam’s Club’s Chief Technology Officer, Vinod Bidarkoppa, proposes that the first thing management should do is raise the issues facing their operations to evaluate the development of their solutions with partners or look for existing technology solutions.

The National Retail Federation show offered an opportunity to showcase the latest technological innovations. For example, they unveiled artificial intelligence-enabled virtual assistants that seem so real that they essentially humanize the customer experience. An automated mailbox drone platform. Solutions for warehouse automation with robots. Systems for data analysis and analytical predictions. Loyalty programs integrate merchandising and CRM solutions and Self-Checkout with more self-service and theft control functionality.

Also, during one of the presentations, mention was made of a recent study by the National Retail Federation and IBM indicated that more than half of global consumers have used Self-Checkout, and another 47% use contactless mobile payment options.

The study confirms that we are dealing with a more tech-savvy consumer and that the way they use technology will change, like eating digitally in Megaverse.

If you want to learn more about the innovations and topics discussed during the NRF Big Show, we invite you to register for our next online course on the “Digitization of Retail.” If you are interested, please get in touch with us at [email protected].