NRF Big Show 2022 Returns to In-Person Format Despite COVID Challenges

Against daunting odds, the 2022 National Retail Federation Big Show once again brought retailers and suppliers face to face IRL from Jan. 16-18 at New York City’s Javits Center. The 112th annual show featured 190 sessions, more than 300 speakers and 700+ exhibitors.

Outgoing NRF Chairman Mike George, former President and CEO of Qurate Retail, drew a parallel between the event’s success and the performance of the retail industry over the past two years: “Retailers showed a willingness to embrace change, to find a better way no matter the incredible obstacles and to innovate faster than anyone thought possible,” said George during the opening day keynote presentations. “That’s been essential to keeping the economy and our industry moving forward — and now that consumers know what we’re capable of, they expect it.”

(The RTP editorial staff discuss the show on the latest Retail Remix podcast.)

Even with a number of last-minute cancellations, the Big Show’s sessions provided a broad yet detailed picture of the retail industry. Key themes of the presentations, which featured top executives from companies including Target, Walmart, PepsiCo, IKEA, Albertsons, Best Buy, IBM and Nordstrom, included:


  • Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, with a focus on practical ways to translate high-minded goals into real-world actions, in part by noting that diversity can contribute to a retailer’s bottom line by expanding its potential customer base;
  • Sustainability, which has gained new urgency since COVID’s onset and has become part of everyday operations at retailers including IKEA. Javier Quiñones, who holds the dual title of CEO and Chief Sustainability Officer of IKEA U.S., noted that the company wants to make “sustainability affordable for the many and not only for the few.”;
  • Growth opportunities, including guidance on selling luxury goods in China from Christina Fontana, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Alibaba Group, who stressed the importance of social commerce, particularly livestreaming. Additionally, Chewy CEO Sumit Singh revealed that the company’s expansion into telehealth, support for veterinary practices and pet insurance have come from listening closely to what Chewy’s 20 million active customers have to say; and
  • New technologies and platforms, including the fact that many companies (including Walmart, Ralph Lauren, Vans and Nike) already are exploring opportunities in the metaverse. Additionally, the NRF Innovation Lab showcased 55 companies displaying everything from autonomous delivery robots and drones to reusable shipping and delivery packaging, 3D, AR and livestreaming solutions.

Leadership Lessons

Many of the executives who spoke at NRF 2022 shared what they had learned about leading companies and people during this challenging time:

“In the last couple of years, more than ever before in my career, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of culture at Target, which is all about care, growth and winning together. During the pandemic, that commitment to culture has been more important, and a bigger part of our success, than ever before. I’m talking about care for our teams and our guests, and also making sure that we focus on being a growth company [in terms of people’s] personal growth and development. Target’s success is about winning together, as one team.” – Brian Cornell, CEO, Target

“Communication, innovation and perseverance should all be in leaders’ toolkits. Add empathy, compassion and listening skills, because if we’re tone-deaf as leaders to people’s needs, desires and demands, we’ll find ourselves in a sub-optimal spot. Curiosity and ownership are also two principles that leaders have to demonstrate from the top, and the culture should embrace that. As kids we’re born with natural curiosity, but somehow when we grow up, we assume and take things for granted. We want to encourage and also embed curiosity driving the mechanisms within an organization.” – Sumit Singh, CEO, Chewy

“One of the things we had to do as a management team, and me personally, was put our people at the center of everything. We don’t have a business model without healthy people, so it was about making sure we take the time to invest and respect the frontline people. We have 70,000 workers in the U.S. and 60,000 of them make, move or merchandise our products. With consumers, it was about being clear-headed about how difficult the times were. We pivoted in how we messaged to consumers: we have fun products that make you feel joy and feel comfortable, but we know how difficult things are.” – Steven Williams, CEO, PepsiCo Foods North America

“My leadership skills are still a work in progress. The first phase was all about just problem-solving. Then it was about creating a machine for getting things done. Now, I’m enjoying getting people to do and accomplish things they didn’t think they could do. It’s incredibly satisfying.” – Vivek Sankaran, CEO, Albertsons

Upcoming NRF Events

The association is bullish on in-person meetings for 2022, with events including:

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