NRF puts on another ‘big show’ for a hopeful industry
Here are some quick hits from my experience over the past three days walking the halls of the Jacob Javits Center in New York, taking in as much as I possibly could of the 2020 version of the National Retail Federation’s annual show.
In a completely unscientific and informal survey of show attendees, I found most were hopeful about the retail industry’s prospects. Many expect the economy, which began posting gains in June 2009 to mark the end of the Great Recession, to continue on its record streak of monthly gains as unemployment remains low and consumer sentiment remains strong.
While the positives list was short and concrete, the potential downsides listed by attendees largely dealt with economic uncertainties and concerns over how geo-political events could upset the order of things going forward.
“Trump’s tariffs,” a phrase repeated often, were cited as the number one challenge, with many believing that the U.S. administration’s trade war with China and other countries has cost American workers jobs and led to higher prices for consumers. While some were hopeful that an interim deal with China would deliver economic benefits, most expect that little of practical value will be accomplished in any agreement regardless of how it is spun by the administration.
The potential for a recession was downplayed by the vast majority of those I met, although continuing tariffs were seen as a potential cause for the economy to go south. Quite a few people expressed concern about an economy that could be upset by geopolitical actions or ill-advised tweets made by Mr. Trump. A smaller number were concerned that the positive effects of the tax cuts signed into law by the president in 2017 are now largely over, with little wiggle room for the administration to further stimulate the economy as the deficit grows to record levels.
On another front, it was encouraging to see that NRF is serious about promoting diversity within the industry. Women, in particular, were well represented in educational sessions. It seems not only fair, but practical, that an industry that has frequently referred to its core customer as “she” starts to reflect that in c-suites and throughout organizations on both the retailer and vendor side.
It was also encouraging to see technology vendors take a more practical approach to the challenges faced by their customers. Not once did I hear anyone refer to technology as “disruptive” or use other adjectives suggesting they had a solution that would change retailing as we know it. Vendors seemed to be offering solutions addressing real challenges faced by merchants and instead of searching for non-existent problems to fix. As to tech challenges faced by retailers, the big two — no surprise — were legacy systems and a lack of executive leadership/silos.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What are your expectations for the retailing industry in 2020? What are you most hopeful about and what causes you the most concern?