NRF 2024   //   January 17, 2024

What retailers look to get out of events like NRF

The NRF ‘24 Big Show is in full swing, with the event reportedly attracting nearly 40,000 attendees from all over the world. That’s the biggest level of attendance since the last NRF held before the pandemic, in January 2020.

The four-day event is heavily vendor-focused, most of which are here to present some of their high-concept solutions such as automation, logistics and robotics. And while SMBs executives typically prefer more intimate conference settings to connect with other founders and investors, NRF is an all-encompassing event that sets the tone for the new year. It can be difficult to parse the upside of attending NRF’s Big Show without a specific agenda.

But industry analysts say there are still a number of benefits that retailers get from attending NRF. That’s mainly true for large enterprise retailers looking for the latest software to upgrade. 

Kelly Pedersen, retail lead at PwC said that much of the technology exhibited isn’t necessarily geared at SMB brands — as most of these smaller brands aren’t ready to invest heavily in enterprise tech. “It’s a record attendance this year, so people are definitely excited about it,” Pedersen said, adding that he himself has already facilitated retailer introductions at the start of the event. 

Pedersen said the themes have evolved over the past few years as NRF made its post-pandemic comeback. “I think more the things people are talking about are different, with generative AI being one of them, along with things like frictionless experiences, and store-level robotics” he said. “I think NRF has done a good job in the last couple of years in reconnecting retailers and really working as an industry association.” 

Some executives find the overall atmosphere to be conducive for exposure opportunities for their brand. One retail brand executive who spoke to Modern Retail said she’s excited to use the event to reconnect with former colleagues and do general networking. “I’m not necessarily here for the sessions, but it’s a good way to plan meetings while everyone is in town,” the executive said.   

Brendan Witcher, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, noted that it took a couple of years for retailers and brands to make their way back to the event. “In 2022, for example, it was mostly vendors,” he said, and that the diversity among attendees has improved since – especially with the international contingents coming back in full force. Witcher said that for retail executives interested in learning about the latest technology, NRF is still the biggest one-stop-shop for discovery. “Otherwise what else are you going to do, go to every vendor conference in the U.S.?” Witcher said. 

Overall, experts think this year marked a return to pre-pandemic activity at NRF’s Big Show. “If you ask the big enterprise retailers that work closely with NRF about their experience here, I think they’re pretty satisfied with how it’s going,” Pedersen said.