NRF Big Show Preview: Editors Pick The ‘Hot’ Sessions

When people call the National Retail Federation’s annual gathering at New York City’s Javits Center the Big Show, they are not exaggerating. From Jan. 14-16, a total of 35,000 attendees from 95 countries will tour the booths of 600+ exhibitors, and more than 3,500 retail companies will be represented by 18,000 retailers.

Beyond the Expo floor, there are hundreds of educational sessions to choose from, with speakers ranging from keynoter Arianna Huffington to retail’s own gallery of movers and shakers. A very partial list includes Macy’s Terry Lundgren, Marvin Ellison of JCPenney, Tommy Hilfiger, Hubert Joly of Best Buy, Karen Katz of Neiman Marcus and Lee McCabe of Alibaba Group.

The variety can be overwhelming, so the Retail TouchPoints editors have identified the sessions they are anticipating most keenly. For more information visit the NRF Big Show web site.



Rock Star Entrepreneurs And The Next Generation Of Retail

Personally, I’m more drawn to hearing from startups and unique, independent retailers as opposed to big box, well-known retail giants. That’s why the session I am most looking forward to this year is Rock star entrepreneurs and the next generation of retail. The title says it all, but the roster of panelists truly makes it a can’t-miss session. I look forward to hearing from executives from STORY, &pizza, Maveron, Museum of Ice Cream and Beauty Pie to hear how these unique brands came to life and disrupted the industry. These companies are really transforming the consumer experience and catering to younger generations in a cool way, and as a Millennial, I appreciate that. Hearing a bunch of fascinating people talk about their success and how they see their companies grow is bound to be an inspiring and enlightening 45 minutes. — Klaudia Tirico

Sunday, January 14, 9:30–10:15 am, Main Stage, Hall E, Level 1


Robotics And AI: Trailblazing Technology For Future Retail

Pano Anthos, Founder and Managing Director of XRC Labs, will lead a panel discussing how new autonomous technologies such as robotics and machine learning can transform retail organizations. The panelists will reveal how these technologies provide a seamless customer experience through enhanced product assortments, next-level visual merchandising and optimizing operational efficiency. With in-store robotics and AI largely in the early stages of deployment, attendees can get a ground-floor perspective on how to expand their use of these platforms.

The panel includes:

  • Michelle Bacharach, Co-Founder and CEO of FindMine;
  • Joe Jensen, VP and GM of Retail Solutions Division of Intel Corporation;
  • Marco Mascorro, CEO of Fellow Robots; and
  • Bernd Schoner, Co-Founder and CEO of DeepMagic. — Glenn Taylor

Sunday, January 14, 10:30-11 am, Innovation Lab Stage, Level 4


Unlocking The Potential Of Persona-Based Marketing: How DAVIDsTEA Creates Authentic Relationships

Delivering a personalized, authentic experience for consumers continues to be a hot commodity in retail. Many marketers are turning to persona-based marketing to better understand their consumers, leveraging new technologies such as machine learning and AI to do so. As a fan of DAVIDsTEA, I’m curious to learn how the company manages to create these genuine customer relationships online and in more than 200 stores. This session will showcase how the company uses AgilOne’s customer data platform and machine learning to orchestrate meaningful experiences at every touch point. — KT

Sunday, January 14, 1–1:30 pm, EXPO Hall, Big Ideas Room 4, Level 3


The Changing Face Of Retail: A Conversation With Doug McMillon

Walmart was once the agenda-setting giant that Amazon is today, but the Bentonville Behemoth has shown it can change with the times. From buying up disruptive companies like, Bonobos and ModCloth to omnichannel, payment and voice shopping innovations, Walmart has kept itself both competitive and relevant. This conversation with President and CEO Doug McMillon, led by NRF President Matthew Shay, will hopefully provide clues about the retailer’s next set of surprises. — Adam Blair

Sunday, Jan. 14, 3–3:30 pm, Main Stage, Hall E, Level 1


Transformational Leadership: Women Empowering Change

This session is comprised of three consecutive one-on-one interviews with accomplished female executives from different fields:

Beth Comstock, who recently stepped down from her post as Vice Chair of GE, will provide insights into how the multinational conglomerate was transformed into a more entrepreneurial and agile company. Comstock initiated GE’s digital and clean-energy transformations and developed a platform for new business creation and partnership.

Arianna Huffington, Founder of the Huffington Post and Founder-CEO of Thrive Global, will discuss the correlation between personal well-being and work performance. Two years after launching the Huffington Post in 2005, Huffington collapsed from exhaustion. This sparked a dramatic change in her lifestyle that eventually led to the 2016 founding of Thrive Global to “end the stress and burnout epidemic.”

Helena Foulkes, President of CVS Pharmacy and EVP of CVS Health since January 2014, will explain how the company has broken traditional boundaries of the chain drugstore model. Foulkes leads all aspects of the CVS Pharmacy retail business, from its 9,700 stores and 20 distribution centers to its supply chain and pharmacy operations. — Marie Griffin

Monday, January 15, 8:30–10 am, Main Stage, Hall E, Level 1


Investing In Social Responsibility: How Retailers Are Doing Well By Doing Good

I’m a firm believer in karma, so I think retailers that give back to their communities are already successful without even looking at their ROI. This session will bring together executives from companies known for their philanthropic efforts: The Home Depot, Gallery Furniture and Red Wing Shoe Company. The Red Wing Shoes Foundation supports programs that support employees’ communities, and The Home Depot Foundation is committed to improving U.S. military veterans’ homes and families — both extremely impactful. And who could forget how Jim “Mack” McIngvale, Owner of Gallery Furniture, turned his stores into shelters for Hurricane Harvey victims? Personally, I can’t wait for this session and to hear his story. — KT

Monday, January 15, 10:30–11:15 am, Hall A, 1A 10, Level 1


How AI Is Currently Powering Retail’s Growth

Deborah Weinswig, Managing Director of Fung Global Retail and Technology, will moderate this AI-centric panel, featuring executives from leading brands eBay, Cosabella and 1-800-FLOWERS.COM. The speakers plan to dissect the ways retailers have already leveraged the technology to their benefit. With optimal AI solutions in place, retailers can tailor merchandising strategies, personalize offers and even expedite delivery to improve customer satisfaction, increase conversions and boost revenue.

The panel will include:

  • Silvia Campello, President and COO of Cosabella;
  • Chris McCann, CEO of 1800FLOWERS.COM; and
  • Kris Miller, Chief Strategy Officer of eBay— GT

Monday, January 15, 2:15–3 pm, Hall A, 1A 10, Level 1


Retailing Ethics In The Age Of Artificial Intelligence

Solutions powered by AI and machine learning offer new and more granular ways for retailers to target and serve their customers, but every advance of this kind raises potential ethical questions about consumer privacy. These questions are more complicated when it’s unclear whether humans or machines are making decisions on a day-to-day basis. This panel will include both academics (from NYC Stern School of Business and MIT) and solution providers (from IBM) — a combination that should provide a strong real-world perspective around these pressing, fast-changing issues. — AB

Monday, Jan. 15, 2:30–3:15 pm, Innovation Lab Stage, Level 4


Building A Retail Super Team: How Collaboration Can Underpin Success In Today’s Market

Martin Barthel, Head of Global Retail and E-Commerce Strategy for Facebook; Jennifer Hyman, CEO and Co-Founder of Rent the Runway; and Rod Sides, Vice Chairman and U.S. Leader for Deloitte’s Retail and Distribution Practice, will explore how a collaborative approach in capturing, securing and mining market data can lead to superior customer intelligence. This consumer knowledge can then be leveraged to improve the customer experience at every level in a competitive retail marketplace where the customer is the ultimate decision maker. The speakers will discuss how retailers can benefit from merging their own insights with those of other ecosystem players to reach new levels of growth and customer satisfaction. — MG

Tuesday, January 16, 9:30–10:15 am, Main Stage, Hall E, Level 1


Alibaba And The Future Of Retail

One of Amazon’s few rivals on the global stage is Chinese e-Commerce giant Alibaba. Anyone interested in tapping the Asian (and overall global) market will need to reckon with Alibaba’s reach and influence there and throughout the world. This session with Alibaba VP North America Lee McCabe promises information on how global brands can reach the Chinese market, but it should also provide a window into the company’s international aspirations and its aggressive moves into physical retail. — AB

Tuesday, Jan. 16, 1:15–1:45 pm, Feature Stage, Hall D, Special Events Hall, Level 1


On The Eve Of Disruption: Meet Next-Gen Retailers On The Rise

Disruption has been the name of the game for brands looking to crack the competitive field of retail. Any time a company makes the shopping experience more convenient or less expensive for consumers, it has a chance at succeeding. Brandless, Capsule and Zola are three retail companies that offer unique products and services for clients in ways that break the traditional sales mold. In this session, attendees will be able to collect insights into their strategies and understand the reasons behind their cult followings.

Lisa Feierstein, Digital Content Executive at TrendWatching, will moderate the panel, which will include:

  • Eric Kinariwala, Founder and CEO of Capsule;
  • Shan-lyn Ma, CEO and Founder of; and
  • Tina Sharkey, CEO and Co-Founder of Brandless— GT

Tuesday, January 16, 2:15–3 pm, Feature Stage, Hall D, Special Events Hall, Level 1

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