The state of the retail industry 2017

Check out the official recap for photos, videos, articles, presentations and more from Retail’s BIG Show 2017 .

Check out the official recap for photos, videos, articles, presentations and more from Retail’s BIG Show 2017 .

NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay welcomed yet another record-breaking crowd of close to 35,000 to the second day of Retail’s BIG Show. 

Shay kicked things off by talking about disruption — not only in terms of rapidly evolving technology and preferences in the retail industry, but also how disruption has come to Washington, D.C., in the form of a new president who was elected on a platform of change. This will require vigilance and a strong, unified retail voice from NRF. Washington has been frozen in place for many years, but the new Trump administration promises to thaw the legislative process and move quickly in several areas important to the retail industry like taxes, trade, healthcare and regulatory reform.

Shay also spoke to the importance of talent in the retail industry at all levels — welcoming Ellen Davis, executive director of the NRF Foundation and NRF senior vice president, to the stage to speak about the NRF Foundation’s RISE Up program — and the need for new thinking and collaboration to ensure retail’s future success.

NRF President and CEO opening remarks: The state of NRF and the retail industry

Remarks by Matthew Shay and Ellen Davis (As Prepared for Delivery)
Monday, January 23, 2017 at Retail’s BIG Show


Good morning!

Welcome to Day Two of Retail’s BIG Show! We’re happy to have you all here this week for another great program.

We kicked things off yesterday with the first of three full days of the BIG Show EXPO. Many of you have already visited the show floor that continues to grow, and we have more than 500 exhibitors here this week. Our exhibitors are showcasing solutions ranging from beacons to Big Data, payments to predictive analytics, robotics to RFID and much, much more.

I hope you can also tear yourself away from the show floor to take advantage of the content we’re featuring this week. We have over 300 speakers and 70 educational sessions that will pique your interest.

And you may have noticed this event has an even more global feel than usual. That’s because our 35,000 attendees are here from 95 countries around the world.

And speaking of global visitors, in just a few minutes, Sir Richard Branson will join us. He will be sharing some of his insights from a fascinating life full of adventure, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. NRF Chairman Kip Tindell will join him for a conversation that I know we are all looking forward to hearing. 

There’s so much to see and do here this week and we’re off to a great start! One of the topics that Sir Richard and Kip will surely discuss is the workforce and careers in the retail industry. I know that they both feel passionately about the people who make retail and customer experiences special. 

Last night, we celebrated those careers, and the people shaping retail’s future.

We held the NRF’s third annual Foundation Gala, which benefits the NRF Foundation. It was, once again, an inspiring evening and filled with our industry’s biggest and brightest stars. I’m proud to report we raised more than $2 million in one night! Thanks to those of you who were able to join us, and congratulations to our entire NRF Foundation leadership and team! 

So, we are already off to a powerful start. Yesterday we heard from Walmart and Macy’s about their commitment to investing in the next generation of retail talent, from executives from GameStop and Vitamin Shoppe about the power of using customer analytics to ultimately know their customers better and from Shoes of Prey and Indochino on delivering a truly “tailored” customer experience.

Later this morning, we will hear Intel’s Brian Krzanich. He’ll talk about how data — when combined with smart, connected technology — can help us deliver amazing customer experiences. They, and many other speakers, will address the challenges and opportunities — and the disruption — that’s become an everyday feature of the retail industry.

Political disruption and NRF’s role

“Disruption” is a word we have heard quite a lot of in the past few years. It comes from a Latin word that means “to break asunder,” or more literally, “to shatter to pieces.” Put that way, it doesn’t sound like a very positive thing. And let’s be honest, when disruption first arrives, it usually doesn’t FEEL like a good thing, either.

Yet, the reality is, we need it to shake up the status quo and usher in the next innovation. When a new technology disrupts a product or a business, it often replaces old inefficiencies, making things better and stronger than they were before.

But disruption isn’t reserved only for industry and business. It happens in the arts, in sports and culture — most notably, in our recent presidential election two months ago. 

However you voted, whatever your views and your political beliefs, you have to recognize that disruption has come to Washington in a way that we’ve never seen before. Disruption and change have arrived, somewhat unexpectedly, in the form of a new president. A president who is in a literal sense a retail politician. President-elect Trump will be the first retailer to serve as President since another straight-talking, “give ‘em hell,” kind of executive ... a Kansas haberdasher named Harry Truman.

You might love what you see or you might hate it, but we all see change.

That’s what the voters chose this past November. And with big changes come fresh opportunities to move an agenda — the retail agenda — forward.

“With big changes come fresh opportunities to move an agenda — the retail agenda — forward.”

Matthew Shay
NRF President and CEO

The gridlock in Washington is finally starting to thaw, and we’re starting to see changes that many thought we’d never see ... regulatory and tax reform, a real assessment of health care, infrastructure investments — and many others. There’s much for us to like on this list.

For example, we support sensible tax reform and simplification of the tax code. This will unlock productive investments, generate much needed growth and create jobs. And the repatriation of trillions of dollars of corporate profits from abroad will be a big shot in the arm for our economy.

Meaningful regulatory reform is a substantial departure from past efforts to mandate prosperity with regulations and laws … rather than create barriers, we’ll remove them, and encourage investment, business formation and job creation.

On health care, we don’t expect that Affordable Care Act will be overturned completely. But we do expect changes that will increase competition and reduce the burden of rising costs on employers.

Between the President and the new Congress and all of the other interested parties chomping at the bit for their piece of the action, there are a lot of ideas being put forward about how best to advance our economy and bring about change. 

Many of these proposals will have a direct impact on retailers and their consumers, and we’ll be right in the middle of the debate. That’s one reason that yesterday the NRF board of directors approved substantial investments. These investments in policy initiatives will ensure the voice of retail is heard loud and clear on Capitol Hill and beyond.

One topic in particular, tax reform, has received a great deal of attention lately. And as it relates to retail, it’s no wonder. One of the features of the tax reform proposal in the House of Representatives is a so-called “border adjustment tax” on imports. No longer would retailers, refiners, auto manufacturers and technology companies be permitted to deduct the cost of imports from their tax liability.

In addition, they would pay a 20 percent tax on everything they import for assembly or resale in the U.S. Those are additional costs that would be borne by consumers in the form of higher prices.

It’s a radical departure from the current tax system. It’s one that many U.S. businesses — retailers among them — would find disastrous to their current business structure and marketplaces. On the other hand, there’s not another industry that’s as enthusiastic about tax reform as retail.

Retailers currently pay the highest corporate taxes of any industry in the country. The full top rate of 35 percent, plus state and other taxes.  And retailers benefit least from tax credits, tax expenditures, deductions and loopholes — all of which help some companies in other industries achieve low double digit or even single digit corporate tax rates.

So we’re fully supportive of tax reform. But we need reform that’s sensible, reasonable and least disruptive to the consumer economy. 

Sorting this out and reaching an appropriate solution is all part of living in the new, disrupted, Washington.

Convergence in retail

So this disruption in Washington is new ... it’s something we haven’t seen in generations. But it pales in comparison to the ongoing disruption in retail brought about by rapidly changing technologies and consumer preferences. And experiencing that sort of disruption is exactly what this show, and our exhibit halls, are all about.

The one-dimensional predictions of the past are now 4D, humming realities. You’ll see them all in this year’s Innovation Lab on the fourth floor of the exhibit hall. Those realities are being integrated into the vast ecosystem that is the retail industry.

Your customers will never see many of these technological advances and innovative solutions. But they’re as essential to your success as marketing and inventory. Our new Innovation Lab is a must-see experience and your week won’t be complete without a visit.

While you’re there, you can see 3D printers that continue to blur the distinction between manufacturers and retailers; wearable clothing, technology and accessories that will allow consumers to track health, fitness and personal safety; augmented and virtual reality that represent the ultimate melding of the physical and virtual worlds.

All of these things are customizing and personalizing the shopping experience like never before. We’re already experiencing the impact of heightened consumer expectations. New solutions and supply chain efficiencies like drones and other technologies are starting to make same-day delivery a reality. “Why wait until tomorrow when you can get it today?”

These are just a few examples of what’s happening in retail every day. So stop by the Innovation Lab to see this and additional innovative retail solutions located on the fourth floor.

Retail and talent

For all the talk about technology, however, the future is not just the “what” of technology, but more importantly it’s the “who” of our workforce.

A few minutes ago, I mentioned last night’s Foundation Gala ... we raised over $2 million to support retail careers and identify the next generation of retail leaders. 

There were many who made this event a success ... but there is one person who has led THIS effort AND so many others that have made the NRF Foundation the success it is today.

I’d like to invite Ellen Davis, executive director of the NRF Foundation and NRF senior vice president, to join me here on the stage. Ellen will talk a little more about the Foundation and yet another exciting, new initiative that we announced yesterday.

Please welcome Ellen Davis …


Thanks, Matt. I’m so excited to finally be at the point where we can talk about this — especially here at the BIG Show — with 35,000 of our nearest and dearest friends in retail.

If you were here yesterday morning for the incredible opening panel on building the next generation of the retail workforce with Greg Foran, Terry Lundgren and James Rhee, you’ll know that we launched a new initiative called RISE Up.

But this isn’t just the launch of any initiative. What we have done and what we aim to do together, as an industry, truly has the potential to change lives.

Over a year ago, we asked a number of retail CEOs to share with us what three things keep them up at night. On every answer, jobs and talent were mentioned.

We knew that talent initiatives were an important investment for NRF, because they are top of mind for retailers ... so we buckled down and really got to work.

In such a rapidly evolving time for our industry, our future is increasingly being guided by the talent that drives it. But with nearly 700,000 jobs in retail that remain unfilled, there’s definitely a disconnect.

That’s where we came in. Could we build a bridge for the hundreds of thousands of people in this country who need jobs to connect them to the hundreds of thousands of open retail positions?

The answer is yes. We could. And we did. And yesterday we took the first of many steps in the coming years to make it a reality.  

RISE Up is a groundbreaking training initiative to help people acquire the skills they need to land jobs in retail.

RISE Up is a groundbreaking training and credentialing initiative to help people — regardless of educational background, economic means or age — acquire the skills they need to land jobs in retail and advance into promising careers.

Whether it’s in-store OR digital, RISE Up is designed to give people the competencies they need today, while at the same time preparing them for a career in the future. We worked with dozens of retailers, nonprofit partners and foundations to build the first component of RISE Up, called Retail Industry Fundamentals. 

It gives participants real-world, practical knowledge in areas like retail tools and technologies, customer service, retail math, inventory and interview skills. And when graduates pass their exam, they will receive a credential that will be portable, transferrable and widely recognized across the retail and service industry.

While some retailers, especially small businesses, will integrate this into their existing training program, it will mostly be delivered through nonprofits, high schools and workforce development groups — the people that interact directly with the population this credential can help the most.

RISE Up helps people get jobs AND helps retailers address their recurring talent challenges — including shortening the time needed to hire and train new retail associates and reducing turnover.

We’ve put together a video that captures some of the details.

Let’s take a look.

Retail Industry Fundamentals is just the beginning. Moving forward we’ll be creating a broader retail credentialing program that will allow retail professionals to move around and advance in their careers — in areas like data analytics, management and supply chain.

These programs are fundamentally about people — elevating them and encouraging them to succeed — and about giving them the skills they need to flourish in this dynamic industry and watching them achieve great things.

People like Ro, who started as a cashier at The Home Depot and is now a regional vice president.

Or Lynn, who started with Tractor Supply company as a part-time employee while he was at a community college, and today he oversees 160 stores.

And Andrijana, who came to America in search of a better life, and was hired by Macy's before she could even speak English. Today she’s a manager in Macy’s jewelry business and fluent in English. Retail was the only industry that would take a chance on her.

In many industries, this is the exception, not the norm. That’s not true in retail. For each one of their stories, there are a million more like them. All of us in retail should be so proud of the success we help people achieve every day.

So keep an eye out, you will see their stories playing on video monitors all around the BIG Show this week. If you see one, be sure to stop and take a look. They are all truly inspiring.

I want to thank you all for being here this week at BIG Show, and thank you for letting me share with you this very exciting new initiative.

Matt, I will hand things back over to you!


Thank you, Ellen.

That is a truly remarkable — and moving — new program. Congratulations!

One of NRF’s primary roles is to be the industry’s chief storyteller, and RISE Up and the Foundation’s work is one way we tell that story.

But NRF’s mission is to help the retail industry achieve the things that no single company could achieve on its own. To help the retail industry speak with a single voice. To provide forceful advocacy in a disrupted policy environment. To provide thought leadership in a transformed and volatile business climate. And to support the people that make this industry great — telling their stories, and providing a career path and economic opportunities ... opportunities for people who, if not for all of you, would never have them.

We come together this week to celebrate retail and learn from one another, and this is also an opportunity for all of us at the NRF to say, “Thank you.” Thank you for your support and encouragement. It’s a privilege to represent this great industry, and speaking for all 130 members of the NRF staff, I can tell you that we’re honored to have this opportunity.

I hope you enjoy your time here this week, that you learn a lot and make some new friends, find solutions for your business and that you’ll call on us anytime we can help you during the coming year.

Thanks for being here. Have a great show!