Retail industries focus on citizenship, metaverse, diversity and the war on talent

Kaitlin Hastie
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Day two of NRF 2022, Retail’s Big Show in New York City did not disappoint. The focus was centered on emerging trends and the future of the industry more broadly. We heard from some amazing and exceptionally inspirational leaders, who on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day really paid tribute to the vision and values of the great leader.

Today’s keynote was from ex-CEO of American Express and co-founder of One Ten, Ken Chenault and CEO of the company Maurice Jones. These two leaders have an inspiring mission to advance one million Black Americans in work opportunities across the next ten years.

They discussed the importance of equality across America, the impact of leadership on positive social change and fulfilling a vision of ‘changing the life of all our people’. The key take away is that companies must fully embrace Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategies by truly embedding this in all processes; from recruitment - to team member development.

Walmart US President and CEO John Furner continued the inspirational leadership discussion, with a very real story of how a once hourly associate was able to make a career out of retail. John’s key focuses for Walmart are developing and growing his internal talent, while ensuring that Walmart continues to listen and respond to the ever-changing consumer expectations.

The notion that retail workers have become essential workers or ‘heroes’ of the post pandemic world is integral to Walmart’s talent strategy moving forward. Not only this, but they continue to focus on sustainability, having partnered with the ‘Race to Zero’ campaign.

We were lucky enough to also hear from Ralph Lauren CEO Patrice Louvet who credits the company’s strong grounding in heritage and focus on innovation as key to moving the brand through the COVID pandemic.

What continues to come through is that bricks and motor is not dead, with Ralph Lauren opening up 80 new stores across the globe last year – highlighting consumers’ wish to still continue the instore experience. The Ralph Lauren strategy continues to focus on the American Dream, while evolving and elevating the brand by jumping into the 3D virtual world or metaverse.

For me, it was Patrice’s use of the word ‘citizenship’ that really resonated – allowing us to reflect that retail is a movement that has complete global reach and influence. His strong commitment to fully embedding DEI and sustainability strategies within Ralph Lauren is not just an internal strategy, but viewed from a global citizenship perspective.

Another highlight is the phenomenal adoption of the metaverse and the clear necessity for all companies to play in this space, particularly as generation Z and Alpha become an increasingly powerful consumer market. Terms such as ‘Phydigital’, ‘Digital natives’, ‘NFTs’, ‘Avatar’ and ‘Roblox’ - while they might sound like a new language and a new world (which for all intents and purposes it is!) now must be integral to all consumer engagement strategies.

Retailers now need to be building that Avatar, and asking themselves: how do we plan for both the physical and digital world?

Finally, we listened to a great presentation from Macy’s VP of Talent and CEO of Guild Education, discussing the importance of investment in training and education for retail team members. The ‘War for Talent’ is real, with Macy’s running at a 15- 20% job vacancy rate all of last year, and John Patterson shamelessly sprucing job opportunities at Macy’s for all those at the NRF conference.

All jokes aside, Macy’s is tackling its talent challenge with a significant investment in its current and future team members, providing access to educational programs across all levels.

Overall, day two provided some seriously thought-provoking insights that all retailers must be aware of. If not, they run the risk of getting left behind in a world that continues to accelerate and change at an increasingly rapid rate.

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