After a tricky Christmas season, the spotlight shifts to retailing again next week when more than 27,000 store executives, suppliers, techies, consultants and prognosticators converge on Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center for the National Retail Federation’s annual convention and expo called “Retail’s Big Show.”
The convention — the industry’s largest — will be filled with demos and discussions on the latest technologies from mobile platforms to RFID, and case studies on everything from sustainability to going global and the convergence between brick-and-mortar and online.
With uncertainty the order of the day, retailers crave insights into the future and on best practices to help them plan their buys and orchestrate strategies. With any luck, they’ll get a dose of inspiration from presenters including Terry J. Lundgren, Howard Schultz, Bill Simon, Kip Tindell, Walter Robb and Mindy Grossman, the chief executive officers, respectively, of Macy’s Inc., Starbucks Corp., Wal-Mart U.S., The Container Store, Whole Foods and HSN Inc. Donna Karan, Thomas Belk of Belk Inc. and Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, are also set to speak during the convention, which runs Sunday to Wednesday and is expected to draw a crowd of attendees and exhibitors that’s 10 to 15 percent larger than the 2012 convention.
Aside from all the learning and networking opportunities, the convention helps recharge retailers. Last year, they endured an uneven and often puzzling fall-holiday season impacted by Hurricane Sandy, the presidential election, Washington’s inability to resolve fiscal issues and the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. Europe’s shaky economy also sapped much of the will of consumers to spend. Though people are generally in better financial shape than a couple of years ago, you wouldn’t know it from their tentative spending recently.
The NRF will give its final verdict on the holiday season either during the convention or soon thereafter. For now, the trade organization is sticking to its forecast for a 4 percent gain, which seems optimistic considering how erratic sales and traffic in the malls were until the very last minute. “From the beginning of 2012, we said that for a variety of reasons we thought consumers were going to be conservative and cautious and that there were a lot of variables that would effect the outcome,” Matthew Shay, NRF’s president and ceo, said in an interview Wednesday.
Regarding the outlook for 2013, “If we went over the fiscal cliff we basically would be seeing [retail sales] flat to down for the first six months,” Shay said. “If we got the big solution, we could be up 3 or 4 percent. We really didn’t go over the cliff, but there wasn’t the big solution either.” That leaves the industry “still in that kind of gray area.”
Spending cuts, the debt ceiling, reforming entitlement programs, the corporate tax code, tax loopholes and the government’s budget remain unresolved. “We feel we’re poised to move from a rather modest economy to a stronger and more robust economy if we can begin to address some of the bigger issues that thus far the administration or Congress have not found a way to address,” Shay said. “There are lots of things that we can do that we just haven’t done yet.”
Regarding retailing’s own set of challenges, “They get a lot easier to deal with when the economy is growing at 4, 4.5 or 5 percent, rather than limping along at 1.8 to 2 percent,” Shay said. Unemployment, lingering at 7.8 percent, doesn’t help. “That number is troubling. If you add in discouraged workers and those who have left the workforce, the number is 15 percent,” he added.
“We [the retail industry] feel we are in a good position to grow and so is the rest of the economy, which has still found a way to grow, although very tepidly,” Shay said. “But the uncertainly has not been removed. The whole issue of consumer confidence is related to economic headwinds....For us, the focus is going to be on the positive opportunities that exist. None of the challenges are insurmountable. Most are politically made. The fiscal cliff is a sheer contrivance. We didn’t have to find ourselves in this crisis. This lack of leadership has been frustrating consumers and investors, creating a level of uncertainty.”
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast