Retail’s Big Show, organised by the National Retail Federation (NRF), which took place again in New York City this month, was somewhat different to previous years for obvious reasons but thankfully it also had many similarities too.
This annual industry jamboree attracts retailers and technology providers from across the globe to showcase the latest technology solutions and to also share insights and their thinking into how the retail sector might develop in the future.
Covid-19, and the Omicron variant specifically, impacted this year’s event. Heading into December the show looked like it would very much be a return to what visitors had experienced previously including the January 2020 event (before the pandemic hit and it forced the cancellation of NRF in 2021). But Omicron took hold and confidence fell off the proverbial cliff.
What transpired was that this year’s event suffered mainly from the pulling out of numerous big-name technology firms. The main exhibition floor was a disappointingly quiet space compared with the usual busy scenario. Shout-outs must be made for those firms that made the effort to support the show (albeit with scaled-back booths and reduced teams). Plucking some names out of the air, they included Salesforce, IBM, NCR, Flooid and Talkdesk. Apologies for all the many others I’ve missed.
While many of the big guns failed to make it to New York the smaller vendors located on the lower exhibition floor attended in large numbers and it generally felt like a regular year. Salutes go out to the UK companies that made an appearance and added some colour to proceedings. To name a small batch Uncrowd, Dressipi and BOSCO.
On this same lower floor sat the Innovation Lab, which felt pretty much as buzzy as it had during previous events, with the almost 60 exhibitors enjoying some decent footfall as they showcased some of the more cutting-edge solutions and interesting developments in retail tech.
The other aspect of NRF 2022 that was reminiscent of other years was the strong programme of speaker presentations. Most of those originally scheduled on the agenda took place (albeit with a couple of major names disappointingly appearing on screen via Zoom) and the levels of attendance was extremely high. Maybe because of the fewer major name booths to visit on the exhibition floor many attendees were placing a greater emphasis on the presentations.
Clearly attendee numbers were down on last year but for those people who made it to New York they would have found the speaker programme a definite attraction. Some late cancellations on the programme predominantly involved non-US executives who chose not to make the overseas journey. This was reflected in a very much reduced number of overseas attendees – although the Brazilians were very much out in force!
Credit must be given to the NRF for putting on a great show despite the undoubted pressures. It might well have been the case that they had considered cancelling this year’s event as they faced a barrage of pull-outs from the major tech firms. I’m pleased they held firm and ensured the event went ahead because for those that made the effort to attend it was a worthwhile exercise.
There was much optimism on display despite the reduced buzz and just the ability to again mix in person with a broad range of people from across the industry and keep the engine ticking over made it a success. The 2022 event, and all the people and companies who supported it this year, will have hopefully helped lay the foundations for the event to return again next year with all cylinders firing.
Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider