National Retail Federation’s Big Show Recap
NRF Recap

Robert Gehr and Wade Stubanas travelled to the Javits Center in New York City for the National Retail Federation’s Big Show. In the first day, they heard from Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, James Curleigh, President of Levi Strouss, and Marne Levine, COO of Instagram.

The conference is known for its prestigious speakers in the retail sphere, incredible show booths boasting the latest retail-powering technology, and a huge, international attendee population.

The conference kicked off with James Curleigh, CEO of Levi’s, who gave a great presentation, entering the stage riding a bike between the aisles wearing a new, Bluetooth-connected jacket co-developed with Google. He touched on six instrumental points in the resurrection of Levi’s brand power: (1) Creating fans, not customers (2) Be simple and sophisticated (3) Maintaining relevancy; if we don’t someone else will (4) Provide access. Relevancy while maintaining brand (5) “Omni channel” marketing (6) Cultural engagement, commercial alignment.

James played this video for the audience to promote the new marketing flavor and inspired culture of the elevated Levi’s brand.

Wal-Mart was the word on everyone’s lips throughout the day, having recently increased base employee pay to $11, offering bonuses, and bolstering employee benefits. Their acquisition of Jet and Bonobos in an effort to blaze new paths in retail is lauded as forward-thinking. Doug McMillon said that, with the coming tax breaks for corporations under the new tax bill, Wal-Mart wants employees to benefit as well. Additionally, the new Wal-Mart Academy is helping employees maximize their potential by providing new resources promoting career advancement.

Our second day at NRF saw presentations from Beth Comstock, Former Vice Chair of GE, Arianna Huffington, Lee Peterson, EVP of Brand Strategy at WD Partners, Jennifer Bailey, VP of Apple Pay, and many others.

The presentations focused on innovation and how technology can enhance the customer experience. Beth Comstock spoke about incubators, specifically how groups of people “tethered to the mothership” but still free to innovate, are the part necessary to discovering the “new new”.


She emphasized the creation of space for these innovative teams to flourish without excessive restraint from their larger company.

Lee Peterson told an amazing, data-driven story about retail’s 2017 and what the future would look like in 2018. The basis of his presentation was “the reverse side” which is based on a Japanese proverb. It’s the idea that within something seemingly negative we can unearth something positive by looking at “the reverse side”.


He expounded on trends showing the increasing need for improved customer service as the greatest fulcrum for retail to survive. WD Partners’ extensive research yielded instructive data these retail trends, such as the rise of the BOPIS shopping experience (buy online pickup in store) that large establishments, like Walmart, are integrating into their business models. Lee also discussed survey results showing how different retail experiences, like showroom style stores, can increase the customer desire to purchase items and how that drive plays out differently between age demographics. His last, driving point was that, more than anything, customer service is the overwhelming deciding factor in customer brand loyalty.

Later, we heard from Jennifer Bailey about the exciting things Apple Pay was doing in retail. By working closely with retailers, Apple Pay was not only making it easier and simpler to pay, but also integrating with rewards programs at major retailers like Kohl’s and Panera Bread.

To unpack that, the CEO of Panera, Blaine Hurst, took the stage and covered how they were diversifying their marketplace. Offering additional services, like BOPIS, advanced online ordering, and improved, cleaner menus systems, continues to help them maintain relevance.

blaine hurst

One of the strongest takeaways from today’s NRF conference is incredibly simple. Brandon Avery, Creative Managing Director of FRCH, broke down the necessities of retail to succeed into basic terms: retailers must meet their customers at the place where an emotional connection is made and value is added.

He followed this point with a short, homemade video of an amputee child receiving an American Girl doll sporting the same prosthetic as her. The emotional connection was incredibly heartwarming and it was obvious the value that gift carried. Brandon explained that value is the “how” of the experience and the emotional connection is the “why”.  It’s these two central tenants, married with technology and innovation while maintaining brand promise, that will propel retail into 2018.

Our final day at NRF centered on collaboration, featuring a presentation from Martin Barthel, Head of Global Retail & eCommerce Strategy Facebook, and Jennifer Hyman, CEO and Co-founder of Rent the Runway. Martin emphasized how social media platforms, like Facebook, can be used to drive traffic to the store via increased digital integration. He demonstrated how store openings increase search engine results for that business, illustrating the crossover between the digital and the physical.

There are some powerful takeaways from NRF 2018. We heard strong messages about the retail digital presence and how that manifests into digital/physical interfaces to create a cohesive experience. Through these interfaces, retailers will achieve new levels of customer connectivity, which narrows the gap between the retailer and the customer, achieving increased customer centricity. Customers want to be seen and heard instantly, which sets a new bar for customer satisfaction.


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