Big names in retail talking pandemic, innovation, corporate responsibility and more 

Retail’s Big Show by NRF is a must attend each year for members of the industry. However, like so many other conferences this year, NRF 2021 was force to go virtual. Despite the change, the event delivered the same high-profile speakers and insightful sessions regular attenders have come to expect. While our team watched from the comfort of our homes, these were some of the session highlights from NRF 2021 week one that really stood out. 

Social Responsibility 

One of the early standouts was a session featuring Dave Kimbell, president of Ulta Beauty, and Ron Jarvis, chief sustainability officer at The Home Depot, discussing social responsibility’s ever-increasing presence in retail.  

When it comes to social responsibility and sustainability, retailers no longer have a choice. Consumers expect brands to be a part of the conversation, to make an effort for a positive change. 

But as Kimbell noted, in order for it to be authentic, “it has to be built into the core of the company.” Social responsibility may start with leadership, but the whole company must be fully connected to the same mission, purpose or goal. 

In fact, Jarvis estimated that the majority of ideas for change come from the bottom, not from leadership. The key is listening to employees and suppliers, not just your own assumptions. 

And above all else, don’t just stand still. “Inaction is the biggest risk,” said Kimbell. “You can’t ignore the world as it changes.” 

The Walmart Consumer 

Another session, this one with Ira Kalish, chief global economist at Deloitte, and Janey Whiteside, chief customer officer at Walmart, explored the pandemic’s impact on consumer behavior.  

Walmart’s pandemic journey matches most of the retail world: rapid changes in product demand, massive growth of online sales, substantial numbers of curbside and pickup orders. But looking forward, the road to recovery is not so uniform for all of retail. 

While the US economy is in a K-shaped recovery, Walmart’s core market is those on the downward slope. They are stressed about economic conditions, worried about job stability and expecting a slower recovery. 

As a customer-centric company, Walmart is determined to help. In addition to their commitment to low everyday prices, Walmart is also continuing to look for ways to make shopping easier and safer for their customers. 

And the secret to achieving all this is data. With a wide range of product offerings, Walmart collects a variety of data on their customers that can help them better understand and serve their shoppers. But as Whiteside noted, all that data also comes with responsibility and requires trust. 

Customer-driven Innovation 

Transformation, of course, is a big topic for retail coming out of 2020 and so much change. Marvin Ellison, president and CEO of Lowe’s, and Matthew Shay, president and CEO of NRF discussed how Lowe’s approaches innovation. 

Ellison began by describing the much overdue digital transformation of Lowe’s since he became CEO two years ago. By investing in new technologies, like a modern ecommerce infrastructure and e-receipt functionality, Lowe’s was able to build a stronger foundation for growth. 

And grow they have. While Ellison has led the company to double-digit revenue growth, he has also made sure Lowe’s is giving back in this time that is so difficult for many. So far, the company has put $1.1 billion towards helping their employees, first responders and community small businesses. 

As for looking to the future, Ellison states that Lowe’s is driven to pursue whatever is in the best interest of their customers. Effective technology should make life easier for both the consumer and your store associates. “That,” Ellison said “is what good innovation looks like.” 

Read more highlights from NRF 2021 – Chapter 1 week two here!

About the author

Maisie is a content marketer and copywriter specializing in B2B SaaS, ecommerce and retail. She's constantly in pursuit of the perfect combination of words, and a good donut.