All Articles Leadership Management Q-and-A: Matthew Shay discusses 2012 opportunities for the retail industry

Q-and-A: Matthew Shay discusses 2012 opportunities for the retail industry

5 min read


Matthew Shay is president and CEO of the National Retail Federation. As top executive of the world’s largest retail trade association, he serves as the chief advocate for an industry with more than 3.6 million U.S. establishments that create jobs for more than 42 million workers and generate $2.5 trillion in annual sales. Shay has been recognized by CEO Update as one of the top 50 nonprofit chief executives in Washington. He serves on a number of boards and committees, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Association Committee of 100 representing the nation’s leading trade and industry groups.

How will legislation shape the retail landscape in 2012?

NRF will continue to push for policies that support the retail industry’s top priorities — jobs, innovation and consumer value. Top issues in 2012 are likely to include corporate tax reform that would result in lower tax rates and would help retailers create jobs, along with legislation to close the loophole that gives online sellers an unfair advantage by not requiring them to collect sales tax on most sales.

We are also seeking passage of a comprehensive transportation infrastructure bill that would make retail supply chains more efficient, and want the State Department to speed up visa applications so more foreigners from newly affluent countries can come here to shop in our stores.

Finally, the outcome of the 2012 elections could have a significant impact on the way lawmakers approach business issues, so we will be using RetailPAC to support House and Senate candidates who support retailers.

What are the biggest opportunities for retailers next year? What can they look forward to?

Retailers have tremendous opportunities for growth — from opening new stores in the global marketplace to creating smaller footprints to implant themselves in urban locations. But one of the largest opportunities for retail undoubtedly comes in the mobile space.

Millions of Americans literally can’t remember what their lives were like without their smartphones or tablets — and many retailers realize that these devices have completely changed the shopping experience. Today’s shoppers are looking up retailers’ weekly deals while sitting at the bus stop or reading reviews for potential holiday gifts from their phone as they shop in the store. Others are using the devices to make purchases on everything from plasma televisions to pizza.

Many companies continue to invest in their own apps or mobile websites and understand that shoppers’ desire to use mobile devices to research products or make purchases provides another opportunity for companies to grow.

How is technology altering the industry? What can retailers do to stay ahead?

Technology is playing a huge role in retail, from everything that’s happening in mobile retailing to the ability to use technology to cut down on shrinkage or be more strategic about inventory. While the average shopper doesn’t pay much attention to what’s going on behind the scenes, what retailers are able to accomplish from a technology standpoint ensures that merchandise is available when people want it, that shoppers receive the best prices possible, and that they’re able to take advantage of the conveniences of shopping from a multitude of channels.

From my perspective, the best ways to stay on top of technology are to network with peers and immerse yourself in learning as much as you can about the latest trends and developments. Personally, I feel that NRF’s committees and conferences would be a good place to start. Whenever I attend one of our conferences or committee meetings, I’m amazed at the number of retail executives who are forthcoming about the recipes for success — and they all offer something we can learn from.

Some say that customer service is the No. 1 differentiator among retailers. Do you agree or disagree?

There’s no question that prices and value remain at the heart of why consumers choose to shop with certain retailers — and customer service is most certainly part of the value equation. As the economy starts to slowly improve and consumers feel a bit more confident, they may choose to shop at a retailer specifically because they have more checkout lanes open on a busy Saturday, a flexible return policy, or a sales associate planted in certain departments to assist with questions.

Regardless of how individual shoppers define customer service, it’s hugely important — and each retailer is looking for a way to make its company stand out from the competition. Earlier this holiday season, we released the findings from a survey of thousands of shoppers for the best retailers for customer service. We congratulate the top 10 retailers who have already made their mark on today’s shoppers, and look forward to announcing the rankings of those companies at Retail’s BIG Show next month.

One of NRF’s major priorities this year has been promoting retail’s role in the U.S. economic recovery. Can you tell us about that campaign?

The U.S. economy continues to slowly recover from the recession, and retailers are leading the way. Our industry has seen sales grow for 17 straight months, and it’s crucial that policymakers and business leaders understand the contributions that retail is making to a full economic recovery.

Earlier this year, NRF unveiled its Retail Means Jobs campaign to promote a legislative agenda that will create jobs, promote innovation, and provide consumer value. Since then, we’ve taken our campaign on the road to places like Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., to share our goals with business leaders and legislators. We’ve got even more planned for 2012, so stay tuned for what will surely be an incredibly fun ride.

Image courtesy of NRF.

This question-and-answer session was produced as part of SmartBrief’s 2011 Best Of reports, which capture the year’s most important stories in each industry. Sign up now for NRF SmartBrief to get tomorrow’s report on the top must-read stories from the retail industry.