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NRF 2020: MegaTakeaways Overheard at the Big Show

Publication: RIS News

By Joe Skorupa – January 15, 2020


The NRF Big Show is the world’s greatest showcase for technology designed to create exceptional shopping experiences. Retailers go to the show to listen and learn. Here is the best of what was overheard.

The annual convention for the National Retail Federation is not called the Big Show for nothing. It features 400+ speakers, 200+ session, and 40,000 attendees. It is hosted in a space the size of four football fields and showcases more than 800 companies.

And that’s not all. It is part of something called Retail Week, which includes pre- and post-convention events all over New York City, such as Retail ROI SuperSaturday, the VIP Awards, and Rock & Roll Underground, to name a few.

In many ways, the Big Show has become similar to big data – incredibly valuable but also overwhelming. So, in my annual blog about the convention, I curate the best and brightest quotes overheard at the Big Show from the smartest people in retail.

Smart Quotes from NRF 2020

To the shock of everyone at the Big Show the weather was downright pleasant, which is saying something for mid-January in New York. No snow, sleet, ice or bone-chilling wind. Temperatures were in the high 60s. Walking to the Javits convention center passing all the cranes and construction work in Hudson Yards was an absolute pleasure.

The first event for me and many people in retail was the Retail ROI SuperSaturday event, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for children’s charities. This year the event was held in the SAP office on the 86th floor of a new skyscraper in Hudson Yards, a great place to pick up NRF smart quotes:

“No organization grows beyond the limits of its leader. A leader who is unwilling to grow is unfit to lead. When a leader won’t deal with his or her limitations, then others have to.” – Lyle Wells, President of Integrus Leadership and former NCAA Coach of the Year

“When Intel was searching for ways to stand out at the Big Show we wanted a must-attend booth that showed the future of retail capabilities, and we have done that. We also wanted to stand for something more as a brand, so we became one of the first sponsors of RetailROI SuperSaturday. Over the last 10 years, we have given $413 thousand to RetailROI and we consider it an honor to be associated with the good work they do.” – Dan Gutwein,  Director, New Experiences & Emerging Technologies, Internet of Things Group, Intel

“No, there is not a retail apocalypse, but that doesn’t mean all the news is good. One third of retail CEOs fear their company will be out of business within three years. 2019 was another record year for retail bankruptcies – 28. Also, many iconic retailers are struggling such as Nieman Marcus, Macy’s, JCPenny and HBC.” – Steve Dennis, President & Founder, SageBerry Consulting

“When you work in retail you have the experience of working with people who have incredible and yet very humble stories. For many, retail has changed their lives.” – Chris Baldwin, CEO of BJs Wholesale

“The best place to learn about technology and data and what it all means is in retail.” – Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft

“When you are talking about tariffs you are talking about real money and we are going to take a hit.” – Michelle Gass, CEO at Kohl’s

“We are in a new era for retail technology and we have to look at a new cost curve for retailers. We have to change the old paradigm and become API-first, use community sourced software, use common tools, and leverage the cloud.” – David Wilkinson, Senior Vice President and General Manager Global Retail at NCR

“More than half of store sales involve online and a third of online sales involve a store. Analysts always want to know about our sales per channel and they have models built out for it, but I have yet to hear a customer ask me about our channels. Our business no longer operates this way.” – Erik Nordstrom, Co-President at Nordstrom

“More dollar growth comes from physical retail than e-commerce and, oh, by the way, Amazon reportedly does about $20 billion as a physical retailer.” – Steve Dennis, President & Founder, SageBerry Consulting

“Retail is a transforming, vibrant industry. According to consumer data, a majority of shoppers believe retail has improved and also has improved their lives. How many industries can say that?” – Chris Baldwin, CEO of BJs Wholesale

“Every retailer will need to build its own tech intensity, which is tech adoption plus tech capability. You can’t be dependent on someone else. You have to build your own digital capability. You have to take the lead.” – Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft

“Satya Nadella spoke about tech intensity and how every retailer has to be a technology company. You can become enamored with launching new features and technologies and this is not necessarily the best thing for a retailer, so it is a challenge in our business.” – Erik Nordstrom, Co President at Nordstrom

“What we are seeing in retail is a collapse of the middle. A lot of retailers are standing close to the edge and without making a lot of changes they are going to be in trouble. They are drowning in a sea of sameness. Boring retail is dead. My advice is to choose remarkable retail and inspire customers to spread your story.” – Steve Dennis, President & Founder, SageBerry Consulting

“As retailers you have the most valuable asset – commercial scale consumer behavioral data. You have the power to shape your business models, to transform your business, and build your own future.” – Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft

“Our new store in Manhattan is our most experiential store. Food and beverage plays a much bigger role in that store than any of our other stores. We have a bar in our shoe department, which helps make it a fun experience. Customers are sitting on a couch with a drink in their hand and trying on shoes. I don’t know why it took us so long to put drinking and shoes together. People are smiling and having fun.” – Erik Nordstrom, Co-President at Nordstrom

“Real-time associate access to systems is critical. We have come to expect it in our personal lives and need to find ways to provide it at the enterprise level. ― John Soloman, VP, Chrome OS, Google

“The digital world has passed by the front-line worker, the store associate. They are not digital and do not even have e-mail addresses. Part of the problem is there is a conflict between delivering good service and looking at a screen-based device. Retailers want associates to be heads up and hands free. The way to solve this problem is to put a voice in their ear, which unlocks the ability for anybody to communicate with anybody at any time.” – Chris Todd, CEO at Theatro

”Regain your own prowess around how you think about marketing and advertising. If you don’t build your digital capability yourself and instead spend your money in other digital platforms, this leaks out your data. Others can take out all of the value in your data, so you have to determine who you can trust with your data.” – Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft

Finally, here are three smart quotes cited by Steven Dennis:

“If failure is not an option neither is success.” – Seth Godin

“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

For the most comprehensive story written about the 2020 NRF Big Show that includes the must-read Top 10 Takeaways from NRF as compiled by the team at RIS News, click here.