Target CEO’s “vision” started long before pandemic

NRF 2022: Brian Cornell and NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay discuss adapting to meet consumer expectations
Fiona Soltes
NRF Contributor

It wasn’t that long ago that the “death of physical retail” was a familiar projection.

But in the midst of that sentiment, Target Board Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell was demonstrating the foresight that shines in the recipient of The Visionary 2022 award. Back in 2017, he was talking about investing billions of dollars in the company’s brands and developing talent, remodeling stores, adding stores in urban centers and college settings, and using stores as fulfilment hubs.

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“It wasn’t very well received,” he told the audience during a keynote session in the SAP Theatre at NRF 2022: Retail’s Big Show. “It was a pretty cold reaction. But those investments we’ve made have certainly helped us accelerate during the pandemic.”

Cornell, who sat down with NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay for the chat, peppered the conversation with optimism, gratitude and recognition of the continued need for agility, flexibility and adaptability.

To be certain, challenges remain for the retail industry: Supply chain issues, labor issues and the ongoing pandemic are just a start. And yet, Cornell said, shoppers have continued to show that retail is an important part of their lives.

It was fulfilling to see how consumers responded to challenges in the recent holiday season, Cornell said, showing that they, too, are adaptable.

“They came out to shop,” he said. “They were out physically shopping in our stores. They returned to shopping malls. They were engaged. They wanted to be out there enjoying what retail can provide. It gives me incredible optimism for the future.”

Consumers shopped early, they shopped late, and they used both physical and digital channels. And in the days and months to come, those consumers will continue to guide retailers in the face of goods and labor inflation.

Many retail leaders have lived through inflationary times before, Cornell said, and it tends to mean consumers will drive fewer miles, consolidate shopping trips, eat at home more and make tradeoffs with what brands they purchase.

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Ultimately, he said, consumers get to vote “with their wallet and their footsteps,” and it will be essential to listen to what they want, to be adaptable and to adjust as needed.

Overall, Cornell feels more optimism than he did six months ago. In addition to past investments, he credits the company’s recent accelerated success to the leadership that his team has provided and the emphasis on culture.

“We’ve recognized that our culture is all about care, growth and winning together,” he said. During the pandemic, commitment to that culture has been “more important than ever.”

The team talks about culture practically every day, in every different setting, he said. That’s care not only for team members, but also continues the conversation around ease, reliability and safety for all. Empathy has been paramount, and there’s been collaboration and singular focus. “And I think that’s going to guide us going forward.”

Target Board Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell spoke with NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay at NRF 2022: Retail's Big Show about how a commitment to culture has become even more important to the organization’s success throughout the pandemic and moving forward.

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