More than 31,000 store executives, suppliers, techies and consultants will begin to converge on the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Sunday for the National Retail Federation’s Big Show, the largest industry gathering of the year.
This story first appeared in the January 9, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The show will attract at least 1,000 attendees, more than a year ago, and 591 exhibitors, up from the 500 in 2014, according to the NRF.
The convention helps to set the mood for the year, which is starting off on a positive note with last-minute holiday sales and traffic clicking in after a long lull following the Thanksgiving weekend. The stock market is also holding up and gas prices and unemployment rates are down. However, word this week of store closures at J.C. Penney and Wet Seal, and last month’s Chapter 11 filings of Delia’s and Deb Shops underscore how the country is still overstored. Some retailers also continue to struggle amid a climate of weak apparel sales. Additional bankruptcies are likely, despite the prevailing perception that the economy is gaining steam.
“We will be releasing final holiday results on Wednesday and we feel very confident that it will be very close to our expectations of a 4.1 percent gain,” Matthew Shay, NRF’s president and chief executive officer, told WWD. Wednesday is the last day of the show.
He cited last holiday’s “changing dynamics” where retailers and consumers pulled the season forward. “We saw retailers staging holiday promotions prior to Halloween,” Shay noted. After that early start, consumers put off purchasing until late in the season.
“It’s getting very difficult to measure from one year to the next because of the dynamism retailers and consumers engage in,” Shay said. Going into the new year, “the ceos we spoke to feel very good about inventory levels and the efficiency of the supply line.” Margin objectives, he believes, “will be intact and preserved,” despite the spate of promoting.
A significant part of NRF’s show will be devoted to discussions on reinventing brick-and-mortar, Shay said. “No one is really talking about omnichannel and convergence anymore. It’s like air. You breathe it, but you don’t talk about it.”
What there is more talk about is the speed of technological change and where to invest. “Everybody is trying to make those assessments,” Shay said. To help in the process, the expo floor opens for the first time on a Sunday, giving retailers an extra day to see what is new. On the floor will be the NRF iLab with new products and concepts, some still on the drawing board, related to health, food, beauty, home decor, personal technology, wearables and sustainable living and other sectors.
Ongoing industry concerns over leveling the playing field of brick-and-mortar and Internet sales taxes, cyber security and trade reform, will be addressed as well. Speakers from Wal-Mart and Levi Strauss will address the status of brick-and-mortar retail, and former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke will discuss the global economy.
Among the convention “firsts”:
• A meeting of NRF’s newly established IT Security Council.
• The NRF Foundation’s gala on Sunday night.
• A “Retail Across America Mobile Truck,” where attendees will explore industry stories gathered from road trips, learn about industry stats in their home state, and share photos and stories of their careers in the industry.
• Shop.org will name the winner of its first-ever digital commerce startup of the year contest.
NRF’s Gold Medal Award winner is Frank Blake, chairman of The Home Depot. The Retail Innovator of the Year is going to Neil Blumenthal and David Gilboa, the cofounders and ceos of Warby Parker. The International Retailer of the Year award will go to Philippe Houze, chairman of Galeries Lafayette Group, and the Silver Plaque Award will go to Miki Racine Berardelli, president of digital commerce, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of Chico’s FAS.