NRF 2021: Are retailers stronger having made it this far into the pandemic?
There’s no doubt that the novel coronavirus pandemic spelled the end for many retailers, resulting in a record number of store closings in 2020. This was particularly true of those chains that were in weak financial positions before COVID-19 became a household name in the U.S.
This 2021 virtual version of the NRF Big Show has featured a lot of discussions about what it took for retailers to make it through the last nine months and what it means going forward. Great hope is being invested in mass vaccinations of the population as the numbers of daily hospitalizations and deaths set grisly records.
Many themes, commonly heard over the course of the pandemic, are being repeated at the show about the resiliency of many businesses and the people that make them run. The mood has also been hopeful that the combination of diligence, when it comes to safety measures, and immunizations will bring a return to normality. (Walmart chief customer officer Janey Whiteside said she hoped to see the more positive parts return since many would be happy to leave some elements of their past normal lives in the past.)
Every retail executive has commented on how their companies were digitally vaulted years into the future in a matter of weeks or months as they responded to the fastest and most dramatic changes in consumer shopping behavior in history.
Ms. Whiteside spoke about Walmart having accomplished five years of digital acceleration over a period of five weeks.
Retailers consistently commended frontline associates as the keys to success during the pandemic. Ms. Whiteside, Chewy CEO Sumit Singh and executives from Reitmans and RW & Co. in Canada spoke in different sessions about the critical role that store-level, warehouse and contract center associates played in meeting customers’ need for socially-distant product fulfillment.
Retailers also frequently mentioned safety for both associates and customers and discussed steps that they had to take to protect critical stakeholders from the novel coronavirus.
Understanding and connecting with customers was also a regular feature of conversations taking place at NRF sessions. Chewy CEO Sumit Singh spoke about how his company’s move into online veterinary services in October was prompted by calls it was receiving from customers about health problems with their pets, such as a dog eating chocolate.
See last Friday’s episode of BrainTrust LIVE for some astute commentary on NRF Virtual 2021 from RetailWire BrainTrust panelists Ricardo Belmar and James Tenser.
- Economic outlook: Truths and consequences – NRF Big Show 2021
- Creature comforts: Serving consumers’ desire for life’s simple pleasures – NRF Big Show 2021
- BrainTrust LIVE: What We Learned at NRF Virtual 2021, Part 1 – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: In what ways have you seen retailers emerging as stronger operators after making it through the first nine months of the pandemic? Do you see the industry making further gains this year or taking a step back?