More Highlights from NRF 2021 – Chapter 1, Week 2 

And we’re back with more of our favorite sessions and insights from this January’s NRF Retail’s Big Show. If you missed our week one highlights you can find them here! Let’s get into the highlights from NRF 2021 week 2. 


We see sustainability coming up more and more in the context of retail, so it’s no surprise NRF had a whole session dedicated to the topic with Jennifer Keesson, U.S. sustainability manager for IKEA and Abigail Kammerzell, U.S. sustainability manager for H&M. 

The importance of sustainability initiatives for retailers has increased steadily over the years, driven largely by consumer behavior. And with Gen Z coming of age, the demand is only getting stronger. Kammerzell remarked that for Gen Z, it’s not just about buying a product. These social-conscious shoppers believe brands have a responsibility to “improve the society and community in which [they] operate.” 

From one point of view, IKEA and H&M are potentially hurting sales by encouraging customers to prolong the life of their furniture and clothing. And yet, to their credit, both retailers regard sustainability as a crucial part of corporate responsibility, and are making significant investments to minimize their environmental impact. 

Technology and the Store 

While brick-and-mortar retail largely survived the pandemic, it’s nevertheless impacted for good. Leigh Sevin, co-founder of Endear, Arpan Podduturi, director of product, retail at Shopify and Travis Boyce, head of global retail operations at Allbirds formed a panel to explore how technology will shape the in-store experience of the future. 

For Allbirds, the pandemic encouraged the company to pursue a more omnichannel approach. They plan to get more involved with the communities they serve, as well as reshape the physical store to better fit customer needs and shopping behaviors, like buying online and returning in store. “We are committed to the brick-and-mortar channel for the long haul,” Boyce added. 

The panel also addressed how technology can assist retailers with personalization and customer engagement. They discussed how technologies that leverage customer data can provide more insights into what their customers want and how they like to shop. 

Reimagining Retail 

Retail experts Marc Metrick, president and CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue, and Celeste Burgoyne, president, Americas and global guest innovation at lululemon shared how their companies are finding opportunities in the wake of COVID. 

Although 2020 pushed online shopping into the spotlight, for Saks, the pandemic actually revealed the importance of the in-store shopping experience. “For luxury especially,” said Metrick. “People want to see the show.” 

The pandemic also taught the decision makers at Saks several valuable lessons about how their customers like to shop and what Saks can do to meet their needs, including leveraging technology to create an easy shopping experience and using data to improve personalization both online and in-store. 

For lululemon, the future is also digital. The retailer’s previous investments in omnichannel capabilities left them well poised to adjust to the pandemic’s impacts. Moving forward they plan for further investments into rethinking the physical store for a more integrated shopping experience. 

The Next Chapter 

Overall, NRF provided some big-name retail speakers and lots of insights into where retail is headed for 2021 and beyond, despite having to shift formats this year. Whatever NRF 2021 Chapter 2 ends up looking like in June, we are looking forward to it! 

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.