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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Takes Center Stage at NRF Convention

Highlighting Day Two: Saks Inc.'s Stephen I. Sadove takes the chair and Amazon.com's founder and ceo gets the Gold Medal Award.

Jeff Bezos

NEW YORK — Highlighting Day Two of the National Retail Federation convention: Stephen I. Sadove takes the chair, and Jeff Bezos gets the gold.

As the National Retail Federation’s 2013 Big Show on Monday swung into its second full day, Macy’s Inc. chairman, president and chief executive officer Terry J. Lundgren, the outgoing NRF chairman, passed the baton to Sadove, Saks Inc’s chairman and ceo. Like his predecessor, who championed job creation, Sadove said he’s committed to the cause and NRF’s Retail Means Jobs campaign. Sadove will also be pushing for the removal of trade barriers and corporate tax reform. Noting that retail accounts for 18 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, he said, “Retail pays the highest effective tax rate. [Reducing] it would mean lower prices for consumers.”

As head of a luxury retailer, it’s not surprising that one of Sadove’s pet projects is visa reform. “People from China, Russia and Brazil, who wanted to come here and shop, had to wait four months to get an interview to get a visa,” Sadove said. “The NRF got it down to three weeks. We want to make it even shorter.”

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The NRF’s decision to give its coveted Gold Medal Award to Amazon.com founder and ceo Bezos could be seen as a changing of the guard. After all, the NRF’s membership base is comprised mainly of brick-and-mortar retailers. Physical stores have been locked in fierce competition over customers with the Web and the growing trend of showrooming, where shoppers visit stores to look, feel and touch the merchandise before making a purchase online.

Bezos’ Gold Medal Award marks the first time a Web-based retailer received such recognition from the organization. If there was any doubt that Amazon is here to stay as a retail player, the NRF would seem to be erasing it.

Bezos, who was dressed more casually than his peers, in a white collared shirt and jacket with no tie, demonstrated a love of computers at an early age, according to a video played before he accepted his award. He started his first business in high school. “I used to drag the packages myself to the post office myself in my Chevy Blazer,” he said.

Bezos said he was surprised to achieve such success. “We had tremendous planetary alignment,” he said, adding that he enjoys taking risks. “We like dark alleys because they can turn into wonderful vistas,” he said. But, it’s OK if they remain dark alleys, because Bezos said he likes them “either way.”

Amazon has been a disruptive force for the traditional retail establishment. The global e-commerce leader has changed the way the world shops, by making products available 24/7. With $48 billion in sales in 2011, Amazon is projected to reach $166 billion in four years. The e-commerce giant upended the book industry with its Kindle e-reader and created a tablet for games, movies and other products. Amazon has declined to collect sales tax for online sales, angering brick-and-mortar retailers who say the Web giant has created an unlevel playing field.

Bezos recently said that he’s interested in opening physical stores for Amazon, sending an additional chill down traditional retailers’ spines.

Claudio Del Vecchio, chairman and ceo of Brooks Brothers, acted as emcee. Besides Bezos’ award, Lululemon Athletica Inc. nabbed International Retailer of the Year, which was accepted by Delaney Schweitzer, executive vice president of retail operations, and Crocs Inc.’s John McCarvel received the Retail Innovator of the Year award.

Also on Monday, Kip Tindell, chairman and ceo of The Container Store, was elected first vice chairman of the board, treasurer and chairman of the finance committee, and HSN Inc. ceo Mindy Grossman was elected second vice chair of the board and secretary.