3 Major Themes From NRF’s Big Show: Luxury’s Strength, Adaptive Fashion’s Opportunity, Brick-and-Mortar’s Comeback

The National Retail Federation’s Big Show drew about 35,000 retailers, vendors and other attendees this week, including more than 950 exhibitors and 100 sessions. Standout speakers included Neiman Marcus Group CEO Geoffroy van Raemdonck, Macy’s Inc. CEO Jeff Gennette, Target CEO Brian Cornell, Walmart U.S. president and CEO John Furner and U.S. Olympian Simone Biles.

Session topics ranged from how to drive brand loyalty to how to make progress in the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion. Throughout the event, speakers also addressed current pressing issues such as inflation and a looming recession.

Here were our top three takeaways from the event.

Luxury is booming

Despite inflation, a looming recession and foreign exchange headwinds, retail executives were optimistic about the luxury sector during the Big Show this week.

We heard from Macy’s, Inc. chairman and CEO Jeff Gennette, LVMH Inc. chairman and CEO Anish Melwani, Neiman Marcus Group CEO Geoffroy van Raemdonck and  Saks Off 5th president and CEO Paige Thomas, all of whom were bullish on the future of the luxury sector in 2023.

“The luxury consumers is in great shape,” Gennette said in a Sunday morning keynote session, calling out the success of the higher-end Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury.

Analysts said there’s runway for the luxury sector to keep growing in 2023. Luxury brands typically cater to higher-income consumers that are less impacted by rising prices and economic uncertainty. So if the U.S. were to enter a recession, they’d have a stronger chance of retaining their core demand base.

Adaptive fashion is a value — and business opportunity

One standout session focused on the growing adaptive apparel and footwear market, which caters to individuals with disabilities. The panel discussed how retailers are leaning into this underserved demographic to provide clothing and shoes that fit different needs.

Michelle Banks, the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Kohl’s, discussed how the retailer became a leader in this category.

“We have a culture of listening,” Banks said. “Our customer, as well as our associates, told us that there was an opportunity from an offering perspective to understand that about 13% of the United States are individuals with disabilities.”

Billy Price, cofounder of Billy Footwear, said his adaptive footwear brand sold its millionth pair over the summer.

“It indicates there’s a market out there, it makes good business sense and there’s a gap that needs to be filled,” Price said. “It’s so encouraging that brands are seeing that and are rising to the challenge.”

Lydia Smith, chief diversity officer at Victoria’s Secret, said the company has recognized the opportunity to cater to people with disabilities and is “learning how to use a muscle to serve a consumer that is different than who we have historically served.”

People still want to shop in stores

The metaverse might be growing, but retail leaders discussed the lasting importance of physical stores as it relates to building relationships and offering experiences to consumers.

Neiman Marcus Group CEO Geoffroy van Raemdonck said in a session that brands see Neiman Marcus as “a conduit” to access new consumers via its stores and online business. The retailer has committed to making a $200 million strategic investment in stores over three years to add space for style advisors as well as food and beverage concepts to make it a top destination for luxury consumers.

Macy’s CEO and chairman Jeff Gennette also discussed the retailer’s new store strategy, which involves leaning into smaller, off-mall stores in different locations.

And Authentic Brands Group’s chief marketing officer Nick Woodhouse says he believes that “brick and mortar stores are here to stay,” though it is important to have a true omnichannel strategy to bolster store sales.

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