Jan 13 2022

NRF 2022: Retail’s Biggest Show Is Back, but Is the Industry?

Store owners will gather in New York City — in person — to share lessons for selling amid a global health crisis.

The past two years have been among the most turbulent periods in the history of U.S. retail, yet the industry has withstood the turmoil well, for the most part, despite store closures, supply chain challenges and periods of mass unemployment. For example, 2020 retail sales were up 6.7 percent despite the pandemic, and while analysts are still crunching 2021 numbers for the crucial month of December, sales between September and November were up 16.2 percent compared with the same period in 2020.

In New York City beginning Jan. 16, industry leaders, technology providers, journalists and analysts will gather in person for NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show, the National Retail Federation’s annual industry event. Despite the rise of the omicron variant of COVID-19, this will be the first time in two years that the show will happen in person, a decision that NRF President Matthew Shay defended as being “the overwhelming sentiment from our members, exhibitors, retailers, partners and attendees.”

“As we move from pandemic to endemic — a new environment in which we say life can and should go on — there’s going to be friction as we adjust,” Shay added in a blog post published to LinkedIn. “This year’s show is a step forward, and we believe it’s a necessary and meaningful one.”

Retailers Will Confront Uncertainty in 2022

That the Big Show is happening on schedule at the Javits Center is one of the few certainties that retailers can count on. Much else about 2022 is in flux.

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Jack Kleinhenz, the NRF’s chief economist, noted in the organization’s most recent Monthly Economic Review that 2022 will likely be a “challenging year of substantial uncertainty with many questions to be answered. Is the pandemic near its end? Will supply chain disruptions be resolved? How high will inflation go and how long will it last?”

Indeed, in addition to the ups and downs of the pandemic and its many variants, retailers are also confronting the twin challenges of high inflation and supply chain disruption. The latter will “likely to persist well into 2022,” Kleinhenz said, because consumers in a pandemic are more likely to make retail purchases (either online or in-store) than to spend their discretionary income at restaurants, theaters or other entertainment venues.

“That would put further pressure on inflation since supply chains are already overloaded across the globe,” he added. “In addition, infections among port workers and truck drivers could become a speed bump to the supply chain progress underway.”

In other words, it’s a mess out there.  

MORE FOR RETAIL: Dive deeper into the tech trends that will shape the industry in 2022.

Supply Chain, Omnichannel Experiences on the Agenda at NRF

Speakers at the Big Show will try to help retailers make sense of these challenges, to the extent possible.

With respect to the supply chain, Vinod Bidarkoppa, CTO of Sam’s Club, will discuss how his organization, a warehouse-style retailer that sells goods in bulk to its members, is using fulfillment technology, predictive AI and goods-to-person processes to overcome challenges. Jon Gold, NRF’s vice president of supply chain and customs policy, will discuss how logjams at U.S. ports may ultimately resolve themselves — and when.

Although hardly a new concept, building effective omnichannel experiences for consumers has taken on new urgency since the start of the pandemic. In a keynote session, Target Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell will discuss the company’s strategy of placing stores at the center of its omnichannel and same-day digital fulfillment objectives.

Not to be outdone by his company’s chief rival, Walmart President and CEO John Furner will take “a long view on the next normal for the retail industry where innovation fuels growth and customer-centric thinking underpins longevity” in a “fireside chat” with Shay, according to NRF.

Keep this page bookmarked for BizTech’s coverage of NRF 2022, or follow us on Twitter at @BizTechMagazine or the official conference Twitter account, @NRFBigShow, and join the conversation using the hashtag #NRF2022.

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