NEW YORK — Coming off a stellar holiday season, the nation’s leading retailers gathered in New York City last week for NRF 2018, Retail’s Big Show, the annual technology conference of the National Retail Federation (NRF).
This year’s show, held Jan. 14-16, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, featured speakers from major brick-and-mortar and omnichannel retailers like Walmart, CVS, Macy’s and QVC; major service providers like Mastercard, IBM, Microsoft and Kronos; and numerous educational sessions on various technologies and business trends impacting the future of retailing.
There was clearly an upbeat attitude at the show as retailers achieved a “stellar performance” this past holiday season, according to NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz.
“We saw strong job growth in October and November. A 3.5-percent pickup in disposable personal income. Home values and stock prices soared, and consumer confidence is high,” Kleinhenz said in explaining the reasons for the strong retailer performance at a special Retail Economic Outlook session.
On the panel with Kleinhenz were Gad Levanon, chief economist for The Conference Board, and Brian Nagel, managing director and senior analyst for Oppenheimer & Co. Equity Research.
Levanon noted that the “wealth effect” on the consumer psyche from rising housing values and, to a lesser extent, skyrocketing stock prices will keep retail spending strong.
“The reversal from negative growth in business investment in 2016 to double-digit business spending in November 2017 also was a major turning point in the economy,” added Levanon, who did warn of increasing tightness in the labor market, which will create labor shortages later this year and next.
“Right now, investors are giddy about what we’re hearing from retailers,” said Nagel, noting that “we saw that maybe Amazon is not going to put everyone out of business right away.”
Nagel added that the retailers he’s spoken with are anticipating a huge windfall from the recently passed tax reform legislation.
"Retailers are very excited about the tax reform package that was passed,” he said. “The math is simple. Domestic retailers are one of the highest taxed sectors in the economy. Costco, for example, will save over $450 million a year due to lower tax rates, and Home Depot says they'll save $1.6 billion. Retailers will have to find ways to invest that money into their companies, which bodes well for spending on new technology ... They'll face consumer backlash if they simply use that money to buy back their own stock or increase dividends."
Of course, the main focus of NRF 2018 was on technology, with exhibitors showcasing all kinds of innovative solutions to help retailers operate more efficiently and effectively. Among the major trends Convenience Store News editors noticed were technology to enable dynamic shelf pricing, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud enterprise solutions, click-and-collect options, digital signage, task management solutions, assortment optimization, data security, loyalty, and more.
Here’s a selection of what solution providers were showing that has application for the convenience store industry.