Exhibitors and attendees at this year's NRF Big Show were in a positive mood as they made their way around the cavernous halls of the ever expanding annual meeting of retailers and technology vendors.
RetailWire was on hand and, in our own anecdotal and unscientific sort of way, surveyed individuals among the throng to gauge the industry's mood compared to previous years. What we found was encouraging and several themes emerged.
The first is that retailers, while having committed to technology investments in the recent past, appear ready to further dedicate financial resources as they look to create a deeper engagement with consumers and focus aggressively on growing their top line following years of trying to wring out expenses. One vendor told RetailWire, "A recognition of what's needed is there. We are potentially at the edge of a U.S. store renaissance." Another said, "Retailers are coming to our booth with firm ideas of what they want and are ready to spend."
Our second key takeaway is the belief by most that America is finally emerging out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Fears of a double-dip recession have lessened and vendors talked about an incredibly resilient consumer market, albeit increasingly competitive for retailers. "I think the Christmas sales numbers proved to be in line with expectations, but retailers are going to have to figure out some way other than 70 percent off to drive business," said one vendor. "We can help."
Finally, respondents seem to think that the political brinksmanship in Washington, D.C. will be dialed back in 2014 as the majority of people in Congress come to understand there are no winners in defaulting on the nation's debt. They also see recognition of the Affordable Care Act as a reality in the lives of millions of Americans and the focus shifting from repeal to improvement. One vendor told RetailWire, "There are steps we'd like to see out of Washington, but I think we'd pretty much all vote for them just calling a truce at this point."
Here is how the mood of the industry shakes out by the numbers compared to previous years.
Are you more or less optimistic about the retail industry's prospects for 2014 compared to where you were at this point last year?