Retail pushes for conference, trying to push back to normal

Visitors enter The NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show in New York, USA on January 12, 2020.

Wang Ying | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

“The big show will go on,” National Retail Federation president Matt Shay said Monday.

And on Friday, even as more speakers and attendees leave the conference, that remains the trade group’s plan.

The National Retail Federation will begin its annual meeting in New York this weekend. It is one of the many annual conferences and trade shows that kick off a new year each January. But as omicron has taken Covid cases to the next level, conference scheduling has become difficult and has forced industries to crack down.

The JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, which brings together healthcare professionals, major pharmaceutical companies and healthcare startups, has decided to hold its annual event virtually this week. CES 2022, the trade show hosted by the Consumer Technology Association, took place last week, albeit with fewer attendees. And the film industry has announced that it will push for plans to hold the Berlin International Film Festival in February, while the Sundance Film Festival, scheduled for later this month, has gone virtual.

The solutions are in some cases symbolic and reflect business concerns as companies try to push consumers towards a more normal life. Grocers and pharmacies have kept their doors open and stores staffed during previous waves of the pandemic. Movie theaters are trying to win back audiences as some people have become afraid to sit next to strangers.

“As we move from pandemic to endemic, this year’s convention is a step forward in this new environment,” NRF said in a statement Friday. “Sure, it’s going to be a little messy, but it’s a step forward.”

There will be fewer opportunities for people to take off their masks, drink and socialize, as at conferences in the past. NRF recently decided to postpone two of its major events – an awards ceremony and a more intimate dinner hosted by the NRF Foundation – until mid-April. The Foundation sent personal notes to CEOs and award recipients on January 6 announcing the change. It has also indefinitely postponed the student program, which overlaps with Big Show and typically draws around 800 college-age contestants for training and networking.

The NRF has announced increased security measures. Along with requiring masks and confirming vaccinations, he plans to distribute N95 masks and Covid testing kits at home.

Similarly, the Berlin Film Festival stated that its event would have tighter restrictions and no parties.

Reducing attendance

However, two days later, an NRF spokesperson stated that 15,000 participants had been confirmed.

Changes were made to the conference schedule almost every day. Jessica Alba’s Honest Company confirmed last Friday that the company’s founder and CEO has stepped down. Saks CEO Mark Metric pulled out earlier this week.. Both were speakers on the main stage of the event.

Target reported on Friday that CEO Brian Cornell is still planning to attend the event. He is scheduled to give a keynote address and receive the Trade Group’s Visionary Award. However, the company said it had cut travel for other employees who were planning to travel and was looking into ways to participate virtually.

The session with Tapestry, the parent company of Coach and Kate Spade, is no longer on the three-day agenda. Meanwhile, executives from Old Navy, Stitch Fix, Lowe’s and Nordstrom have decided not to travel to the conference and will instead hold their sessions virtually.

Executives from Macy’s, WW International (formerly Weight Watchers International), Victoria’s Secret, Authentic Brands Group and Coresight Research are expected to attend in person.

So far, NRF has not offered a virtual option for attendees or any speakers who do not intend to perform on the main stage of the Javits Center.

We feel like now is the right time to somehow get back together. It’s time to start normalizing.

Stephanie Martz

General Counsel, National Retail Federation

In a Jan. 6 tweet, Future Commerce co-founder Phillip Jackson said, “The big NRF show will be more like No Show.

Since omicron is highly contagious, there are fears that an event that draws thousands of participants could become a superspreading event. Nearly 70 attendees, including several Samsung executives, have tested positive for the coronavirus since CES took place last week in Las Vegas. according to Reuters. It is not clear if these attendees contracted Covid during a tech show or at off-site events such as a dinner at a restaurant.

NRF’s Big Show site, Javits Center, is already credited as the source first known case of omicron spread in the USafter clusters of cases were discovered among the roughly 53,000 people who gathered there for an anime conference in November.

‘Open for business’

NRF is pushing for the conference because many retail workers on or near the minimum wage come to work in stores and warehouses every day. On the other hand, many top industry executives and corporate employees have been able to work from the comfort of their homes and in safety.

“The fact is, it’s very, very important for all of us to remember that our retail workers have been working all this time and we’ve been asking them to come to work and deal with customers,” said Stephanie Martz, chief administrative officer and general counsel. NRF in an interview on January 5th.

She said vaccines, masks and other precautions were game-changers for both the conference and business operations in general.

“Individual companies make the decisions they are going to make on their own and we certainly don’t blame them for that if people leave, but we think the trade association representing retailers should take advantage of the fact that we can say, that we believe the economy can and should be open to business,” she said.

“We feel like now is the right time to somehow get back together,” Martz added. “It’s time to start normalizing.”

NRF’s Shay reiterated the importance of keeping businesses up and running despite the pandemic.

“We are encouraged by Mayor Eric Adams’ stated desire to keep New York City open,” Shea said in a LinkedIn post. “The vast majority of our exhibitors, exhibitors, retailers, partners and visitors feel that we should be promoting the show. … This year’s exhibition is a step forward and we believe it is necessary and meaningful.”

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