Walmart U.S. President and CEO, and NRF Board Chairman, John Furner welcomed attendees and provided an overview of the current state of retail industry challenges and opportunities. Here’s excerpt from his welcome note.
Welcome to the NRF 2023 - Retail's Big Show.
It's great to be back in New York City, but this time at full steam …Thinking about retail, it's mid-January and that means a few things. One, we survived another holiday season, which is always great. Second, we've had the chance to rest a bit, recuperate. And third, it's only ten months until the next holiday season. So, there's never a dull moment in retail. And that's certainly the case this year.
…The past year was a historically challenging time. We did see some relief from the pandemic, but we also saw extreme challenges with global supply chains and that collided with surging demand, a shift in sectors from goods to services, inflation levels that we haven't seen for decades and the start of a war. But we should be really proud of the retailers all around the world, who rose up to meet those challenges head on. We did what we do best—serve customers first. We got them what they needed, amidst all the macro challenges. Second, we innovated. We moved fast to meet the customer's changing needs.
A couple of years ago, one of our board members, Martin Metrick, the CEO of Saks, said something to us in a board meeting that really stuck with me. He said. “Loyalty in retail is the absence of something better.” That's how retail works. If you're not offering the best customer experience to your customers, they'll just move on to someone else who is. With the pace of change that we're seeing now across the industry, it's more important than ever that we keep changing.
I'm also proud of the way our industry stepped up to help the communities in times of need. We have here associates from the Bath and Body Works who were taking supplies from Miami to Fort Myers on the backside of Hurricane Ian, we have people here from BJ's Wholesale Club that were partnering with Homeland Security during the blizzard in Buffalo last month, and then some of our Walmart associates who were preparing meals for the community in Hazard, Kentucky, during last year's flooding. Those are all moments that we should be proud of and that make the industry proud.
Through all the macro environment, the pandemic, natural disasters, historic inflation, retail continued sales growth. We've had positive growth now for 30 consecutive months. In March of this last year, the NRF forecasted that retail sales would grow between 6% and 8% for 2022. And we expect that will wind up right in the middle of that range for the year. That's on top of nearly 14% growth back in 2021. Given that the retail sector is one of the nation's largest employers, that growth really matters. It matters for our employees, our associates, and it matters for the opportunity [to be employed]. There are so many of us here in the room who started working in a local store, a distribution center or a fulfillment center. And that's my story. I started working in a Walmart Supercenter as a teenager, and that has led me to my current roles both at Walmart and The NRF. Many of us are examples of what's possible in this industry. The opportunities. They're real, the opportunities matter.
A few things about the NRF and its importance: Now the NRF serves as the industry's eyes, its ears and its voice in Washington, D.C. In this year, the NRF secured a lot of policy wins with positions on things like, working to help avert a potential rail strike, protecting the corporate tax rate and addressing privacy issues. We also helped with the passage of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act and the Postal Reform Act, and within the Inflation Reduction Act, it includes exciting opportunities for those of us in the room who are trying to electrify our fleet that ship to more renewable sources of energy. The NRF is already fast at work with the new Congress advocating for the industry with priorities like reducing inflation, combating organized retail crime and increasing credit card competition. Additionally, the NRF works really hard at telling our very best stories—stories about the lives we change through great jobs, the impact we have on national and global economies, and the work we all do to ensure a better future for our children by addressing environmental sustainability, diversity and educational opportunity.
On behalf of the entire leadership team and the entire NRF staff, it's just so great to see you. I thank you for attending the 113th annual big show. If anyone that's in this industry, in retail, this is the only place that you should be to discover all the best new ideas, the best new technologies, and form new relationships with the industry's best and brightest minds and the team. We've assembled just a great program that you'll see over these three days…there will be more than 35,000 attendees from 75 countries—quite a diverse audience. We will have more than 1000 exhibitors. 175 sessions with 350 speakers. We expanded the innovation Lab in the startup zone.
We've added three new pavilions to the expo and launched a consumer product showcase that features breakthrough products. What's exciting about this is 84% of those products are presented from diverse or minority owned companies, and the team has just worked incredibly hard to bring all of this to life. I want to thank them for their efforts and their dedication to retail.
…At the NRF, we are honored to work on behalf of all of you and the millions of people who are in retail all over the world. They're from the programmers, the sales associates, from marketers to the technologist, and then the growing ranks of all those in fulfillment centers and transportation teams. Retail is driven by people.
And all in all, this environment will remain dynamic. It will remain full of changes, full of challenges. It's a unique time for all of us and our companies across the industry to serve customers as the wants and needs continue to change...This industry is strong, and if we all continue to be open to change, we can achieve so much more.