With former President Bill Clinton headlining the keynote, an exhibit hall packed with new mobile commerce tech solutions and a positive outlook for retail sales in 2012, it was an upbeat record crowd that attended the National Retail Federation's annual conference held Jan. 15-18 in New York City. The NRF's expo lived up to its theme–Retail's New Rules–as it focused on innovating and reinventing rules for a changing customer, which is one that is clearly focused on the importance of mobile technology, service and brands.
Consider the following from NRF to offer insight into retail trends and growth:
- Retail sales forecast–Following a strong holiday in which retail sales increased 4.1 percent to $471.5 billion, the NRF projects that retail industry sales will rise 3.4 percent to $2.53 trillion, slightly lower than the 4.7 percent increase in 2011. NRF, however, warns that "stubbornly high unemployment and continued uncertainty over the prospects for job growth will continue to dampen the outlook for retail sales growth in 2012."
NRF has been touting the value of retail to the U.S. economy with a campaign to educate lawmakers, consumers and the public. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, retail is one of the largest private employers in the U.S., supporting one in four jobs; it accounts for nearly 20 percent of the U.S. GDP ($2.48 trillion in 2009); and retail accounts for nearly 12 percent of all business establishments in the U.S.
- President Clinton's message–According to Clinton, the recent recession and challenging recovery has changed the way people think about jobs and the economy.
"I never doubted for a minute that I could make a living, and almost everyone in my generation felt the same way," says Clinton. "The recent economic crisis has changed and shattered that... If you are leading the country out of the recession, you are doing something far more important than putting people back to work and putting money in their pockets. This economic crisis is about more than economics. It has gone to the core of people's sense of who they are and what they're worth."
Clinton was bullish about Brazil as a "thriving democracy," noting its strong growth potential and that it has one of the world's top environmental policies. Clinton also pointed out how government and business executives work together for the common good.
- Power of brands–David Lauren, executive vice president of advertising, marketing and corporate communications for Ralph Lauren, reinforced the importance of brands among consumers and discussed how this brand has stayed relevant. Lauren described "merchantainment," and how Ralph Lauren blends merchandising and entertainment to create a lifestyle brand and generate excitement among consumers.
- International expansion–A retail panel, which included Henry Stupp, chief executive officer of Cherokee, and Jim Fielding, president of Disney Stores, reiterated how American brands have found success through global expansion. As part of its growth strategy, Cherokee debuted its brand in Japan in December with Nishimatsuya, a specialty kids' retailer. Disney Stores will open in Shanghai, China this fall, the 12th country it has entered.
- Customer service–According to an annual survey of shoppers conducted by the NRF Foundation/American Express and BIGinsight, the top 10 retailers that have the best customer service are: Amazon.com, L.L.Bean, Zappos.com, Overstock.com, QVC, Kohl's, Lands' End, JCPenney, Newegg and Nordstrom.
- Technology–Retailers are testing ways to integrate technology and better understand how consumers are utilizing smartphones and tablets. Research from Cisco says that shoppers prefer to shop in stores that combine online and in-store experience.
- Retailers of the year–At the Big Show, Whole Foods Market was named Innovator of the Year. Burberry was recognized as the International Retailer of the Year. Among its accomplishments, Burberry has embraced social media, establishing a strong following on Facebook and Twitter.