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Retail future looks bright at NRF's Big Show


NEW YORK - The retail industry descended upon the Javitz Center in New York City this week for the National Retail Federation’s 100th Big Show, and despite the tough economy, the general mood of the show was one of optimism and excitement.

Addressing the packed auditorium before Monday’s super sessions, NRF president and CEO Matt Shay said. “There are very few organizations that enjoy the stature of retail, very few businesses that contribute more to the local economy.”

A key theme of this year’s show was the importance of the individual and tailoring merchandising and marketing efforts to meet the constantly-changing demands of today’s consumer. As Jill Puleri, worldwide retail industry leader for IBM global services noted during Sunday’s super session on the rise of the individual, consumers are smarter than ever and already know what they want before they walk in the store.

“Consumers have changed, and retailers have to change too,” said Puleri.

And retailers are getting the message. Throughout the show, executives from a wide range of companies demonstrated how their businesses were adapting to meet the needs of today’s consumer.

At Groupe Casino, for example, the company has engaged the services of SAP to help develop an extended marketing database and cross-channel capability to deliver tailored promotions, shopping lists and other personalized services to its customers’ smartphones, CIO Stéphane Bout explained during Sunday’s super session on precision retailing. And during a panel discussion on the future of the retail industry, Andrew Higginson, chief executive of retailing services and group strategy director for Tesco echoed the importance of serving the individual.

“There are more choices for consumers today,” noted Higginson, “There is an opportunity for retail to come in and help them make that choice.”

When thinking of the multiple ways consumers receive information, social networking immediately comes to mind, and social media was a major theme at the show. Several sessions at NRF dealt with the topic of social media and how retailers could better take advantage of this powerful tool.

According to a Syncapse study, on average, Facebook users spend an additional $71.84 on products for which they are fans and are more likely to be returning customers, Tom McFadyen, president McFadyen solutions noted during a packed “Big Ideas” session on social commerce.

McFadyen went on to note that the average Facebook user is connected to 100 people and that their recommendations are highly valuable. Retailers must make their Facebook fans empowered advocates, McFadyen said.

And it’s not just the “young” folks that are using social media. According to Steven Skinner a consultant for consumer goods and hospitality for Cognizant who spoke at a session on the latest trends in retail, millenials are influencing older generations and getting them connected.

Of course with all the focus on what is happening online, it can be easy to forget about the store. Speaking at the Cognizant event on trends, Joe Skorupa, group editor-in-chief RIS News, said retailers are “not going to win by trying to compete with Amazon,” and they need to include the store in a cross-channel marketing strategy.

One company that hasn’t neglected the store is Walmart. In a session on in-store digital marketing, Pete LaFond, Walmart’s marketing director for online media and smart network, showcased how his company’s smart network helped deliver targeted, relevant messages to its customers with a focus on moms who make the majority of purchasing decisions for their households.

Globalization was another important topic at this years’ NRF show, as retailers seek out opportunities in emerging markets.

“U.S. retailers want to grow and the U.S. may not be the place to do it,” said Ira Kalish, global director Deloitte Research, during Monday’s super session on the future of retailing.

One market of particular interest to retailers is China. During Tuesday’s super session “Making the retail business dynamic,” William Fields, chairman and co-founder, China Horizon, a joint venture with the Chinese post office to help develop retail and consumption in rural China, made the push for entry into this rapidly growing market.

“This is the time to build a brand, this is the time to understand that China is the second largest economy in the world,” said Fields.

Steve Sadove, chairman and CEO of Saks and first vice chairman of the NRF board, gave attendees some words to think about as they go into 2011:

"In order to survive in changing world must embrace change and innovation . . . how we did it yesterday will not work for tomorrow."

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