NRF Big Show 2020, on-demand stops

In brief
For us, who live between supermarkets and gigantic digital ecosystems, participating in NRF Big Show was a kind of bus trip with an on-demand stop. Everywhere we got off, a possible retail, different or complementary, from the cloud to the traveling salesman.

NRF Big Show is the biggest, and traditional, event of global retail. 2020 edition has reunited in New York, to share experiences and opportunities, more than 40.000 participants. Among them, also the Retex delegation.

For us, living among supermarkets and giant digital ecosystems, the participation was a sort of stop request bus. No homogeneity: wherever we got off, a possible or different retail. In confirmation or contradiction with the next or previous stop, from the cloud to the traveling salesman.


“The client at the center of retail”, “omni-channel challenge” and other similar statements would probably win all the prizes at the banality championship. It is deviant, so, using them as an all-inclusive (and unclear) summary of what have to be done in various situations and for different business models.

In the previous and following days to NRF Big Show, there have been news that seem to establish the digitalization as the unique lifeline for this industry. Especially in the USA, where the ghosts of the Apocalypse are still common occurrence. The end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 were particularly suffered, even though American retail in its overall is not decreasing at all.

Some adverts made a splash. For example, the strategic choice of BOSE to divest its territorial network, in the west and in Japan, to promote online sales alone. All of it in perfect harmony with the hundreds of closures that have affected the American distribution before and after the NFR Big Show.


Yet, this important event has resulted in countertrend indications. Many analysts and managers insisted that the “standard” shop has a central role.

Ron Johnson today is the CEO of Enjoy, door-to-door technology services startup. Previously, number one of J.C. Penney department stores and then, VP of Apple Retail. In short, we can believe what he said during one of the conferences scheduled, “the best retailers have been innovating so that the physical store gets the upper hand again”.

Retail live, and will live more and more, of different identities. A good balance in the different ways of selling is essential, as the buyer is still looking for the same thing: products to buy. And if we talk about balance and complementarity between cash register and smartphone, it is good not to be reassured by the sole “disruption” concept and considerate a wide range of possible ways.


This concept is taken up by the leaders of avant-garde retail models such as Nordstrom, Area15, Showfields and Neighborhood Goods. The latter even focuses on the concept of retail as a “community”.

The appeal of people-to-people commerce is also because many pure-play online brands struggle to make a profit, with customer engagement costs still high. Casper Sleep, a “cult” online retailer of sleep products, is the latest to report major losses, over $90 million in 2018. And they don’t expect to be making a profit for a while.

NRF Big Show 2020 will perhaps be remembered as a celebration of commercial sympathy. Dan Pelson, CEO of Area15, (a large “retailtainment” complex, opening soon in Las Vegas) and Tal Zvi Nathanel, (CEO of Showfields, a four-story, 15,000 square meter experiential space in New York City) think we need to look at the key factor of aggregation. In short: the stores no longer must deal with distributing products, but with winning customers.

The visit of the past few days has comforted us in the belief that, at least for now, in retail the GPS is not necessary. Retail does not only mean hardship, uncertainty and fear. If you have experience and skill on your side, you can spot your luck at any stop. Or avoid being kicked off, at least.