NRF Wrap Up: Record NRF Big Show Attendance Tops 25,000

The 25,000-plus attendees of the 2012 NRF Big Show were drawn to New York City’s Javits Center by star speakers (including former President Bill Clinton, pictured) and also by a general sense that retail is definitely on the rebound. The 101st annual conference and expo featured 400-plus exhibitors and attracted visitors from 78 countries.

The popularity of the Big Show, held January 15-18, was literally visible. Long registration lines snaked through the Javits Center’s lobby, particularly on Monday, January 16, the date of Clinton’s speech. Attendees who finally made it into sessions and the expo hall complained of waiting as long as 60 to 90 minutes to obtain their badges.

NRF CEO Matt Shay’s opening address provided some positive predictions for the coming year. In addition to record attendance at the Big Show itself, Shay pointed to the association’s “Retail Means Jobs” effort, noting that one in four U.S. jobs are in the retail sector, translating to 42 million jobs – more than any other industry sector.

Keynote speaker Clinton picked up on retail’s importance as a job creator, citing NRF statistics showing that retail accounts for close to 20% of U.S. gross domestic product. “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,” said the former President. “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, whose topic was “Embracing Our Common Humanity,” also identified the challenges of operating in a globalized economy. “We live in a world today where all the borders look more like nets than walls,” he said. “We are interdependent to a degree we have never been before. The one thing sure about the future is that we’re going to have to share it with a lot of people. We can share the prosperity or we can share the misery. It’s up to us.”

Super Saturday Success
Even before the Big Show got started, attendees were able to get solid information while contributing to a great cause. The third annual Super Saturday event on January 14 brought together more than 200 attendees to hear from leading analysts, consultants and retailers, in the process raising $350,000 for the Retail Orphan Initiative (RetailROI). For more information visit

Another event celebrating its third anniversary was Rock & Roll Retail. This RIS News event on January 16 attracted 250 attendees to hear four bands composed of people with day jobs in the retail industry but with rock and roll in their souls. This event has become a much-talked-about NRF highlight, an opportunity to see industry colleagues in a different light, have some fun and for a lucky few to say “I’m with the band.” (See page 20 for details.)

Mobile, Mobile Everywhere
Mobility’s fast-gathering momentum in retail was evident everywhere, from a range of presentations and educational sessions to the wide variety of mobile and mobile-enabled solutions on display in the expo hall. Many retailers are responding to the waves of shoppers entering their stores armed with smart mobile devices with their own mobile deployments, both with customer-facing applications and as tools to enhance store productivity. “This is not a good time to be holding back with mobility,” said Gartner’s Jeff Roster. “There are significant bets being placed by retailers on mobile moving into the mainstream.”

IHL Group president Greg Buzek called the move to arm associates with mobile devices “the biggest trend since the Internet.” Buzek, along with RIS News Group Editor-in-Chief Joe Skorupa, presented results from the 9th Annual RIS/IHL Group Store Systems Study at a crowded session on January 16. Mobility for associates was the top store system priority, chosen by 63% of the survey’s retailer respondents; mobility for consumers took the second spot, with 48%.

Within the massive move to mobility, tablets are quickly gaining ground, particularly for these retailer deployments. Just over half (52%) of all surveyed retailers are planning to deploy tablets to their associates within the next 12 months; among mall-based specialty stores, the figure rises to 70%.
While acknowledging tablets’ real-world utility and functionality, Buzek noted that some of the enthusiasm for the technology is being generated in the executive suite, far from the sales floor. “CEOs love their iPads – and they also see the sales per square foot and margin numbers that Apple stores generate,” Buzek noted. What they may not realize is that Apple Stores’ processes are unique and not easy to replicate in other retail environments: “The products are relatively small, so they don’t need to have a cash wrap/bagging area or even to deactivate security tags.”

Make the Gesture
Another key technology theme of the 2012 Big Show was gesture-driven technology. Aisle-walkers may have noticed attendees waving their arms around as they stared at oversized screens. They were not directing traffic or learning football referee signals; they were virtually trying on apparel items without actually having to unzip, unbutton or unlace. Microsoft displayed a range of gesture-controlled technologies, including its FaceCake virtual try-on mirror using its Kinect technology to display 3-D images, as well as the next generation of its Surface gesture-controlled technology for horizontal surfaces.
Cisco demonstrated its StyleMe Virtual Fashion Mirror, currently in the proof of concept phase, which allows shoppers to select from an “endless aisle” of men’s and women’s apparel, mixing, matching and layering a variety of looks and outfits. Pilot programs for the StyleMe are planned at two U.K. retailers, John Lewis and Tesco.

Jon Stine, director of the global retail practice for Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group, identifies these kinds of devices as “immersive technology,” combining the best elements of digital shopping channels with the store experience. (Click here to see a video interview with Stine.)

Giant Touches Down
Celebrities brought star power to the expo floor. Super Bowl champion and All-Pro former New York Giant Michael Strahan visited the Empower booth on January 16. Before retiring in 2008, Strahan had played in 200 games over a 15-year career with the Super Bowl-bound Giants.

Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler was crowned Miss America 2012 on Saturday, January 14; on January 17, one of her first public events was a visit to the Hilco booth to meet fans and the media, sign autographs and take photos with attendees.

It’s never too early to start planning: next year’s Big Show will take place
January 13-16, 2013.

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