MER_110x95bMany economic discussions – especially those following the Great Recession – have focused on the short-term or immediate economy, particularly in regard to the labor market.

However, longer term issues regarding investments, hiring and other business decisions cannot be lost in our thinking about the economy and its direction. While most of us don’t necessarily think or plan 10 years out, it remains vitally important to economists, retailers, policymakers and the consuming public to think about the future while creating budgets, plans or sales projections.

Fortunately for us, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides information about the future with its Employment Outlook report that it issues every two years with a 10-year projection of employment and output.

Since the last BLS report, the economy has notably improved and is now poised for more sustained growth. As the economy expands, long term patterns of growth and industry activity can be more readily observed and the BLS’ estimates and projections become valuable to retailers and others who need to make decisions about the future economy, employment and consumer spending.

So where will the jobs be 10 years from now?

In the coming decade, BLS projects that the “retail trade” sector is expected to increase by more than 1 million jobs to a total of about 16 million jobs by 2022.

In fact, retail is projected to be one of the top three domestic industries for future employment opportunities – behind only construction and health care (see the chart below).

MonthlyEconomicReview_April14ChartPNG

The projected growth in the retail industry – pegged at 0.7 percent annually – reflects the healthier pace of consumer spending at 2.6 percent (higher than the 1.8 percent of the last decade) and a strengthening economic recovery. BLS assumes that the economy will grow by 2.6 percent per year, unemployment will drop to 5.4 percent and productivity gains will increase 2 percent a year (idealistic for sure but feasible).

Demographic Changes Abound

While the retail industry’s jobs increase isn’t as dramatic as those in construction and health care (retail already has a large employment base), the three growth sectors are all inter-related.

As housing and residential construction increases (check out this month’s NRF Monthly Economic Review for more) to accommodate a growing population, construction will continue to gather steam. Increases in new units built and the replacement of old housing should pay dividends to retailers who will help buyers fill those homes – think appliances, furniture and garden supplies.

America’s rapidly aging demographic – baby boomers – are also spurring job growth in medical service fields. An aging population and expanded medical insurance coverage (Obamacare) are factors the BLS incorporated into its projections. Again, retailers – especially those selling health and personal care products – will play a critical role in that demand.

What is readily apparent from a review of the BLS report is the important role demographic changes are making in the economy. While demographics have always played an important role in economic decisions, they are now becoming a centerpiece for discussion.

One of the most dominate changes is that the labor force participation rate among older workers is expected to continue its decline. As the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) head into their retirement, fewer will be part of the American labor force, lowering the participation rate and slowing labor growth and economic activity.

This demographic change – while anticipated – is especially important for retailers. As an individual ages, purchases change. Retailers should take some time to prepare for these changes and remain ever-vigilant and responsive.

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Corporate social responsibility isn’t something retail companies take lightly. To celebrate Earth Day, here’s a quick glimpse into some brands that know responsible retailing is fundamental to their business – year-round.

Walmart Chairman and Former CEO Michael Duke recently gave an update on the company’s green initiative. Duke noted that since establishing the benchmark, 80 percent of what used to go to the landfill from U.S. Walmart and Sam’s Clubs now goes toward recyclable efforts. More stats, like Walmart becoming the largest on-site green power generator in the United States, can be found in their 2013 Global Responsibility Report.

Ikea just announced plans to build a wind farm in Illinois. The project is expected to produce 65 percent more electricity than its U.S. operations consume. It’s all part of their master plan to use 100 percent clean energy by 2020. “It’s about taking care of the environment and living within our means,’’ said Rob Olson, chief financial officer of Ikea U.S.

REI recently retrofit their data center to pare down the amount of electricity they were using. The project was a huge success: The upgrade resulted in a 93 percent reduction in the amount of energy required for cooling, earning the effort the regional “Project of the Year” in 2013 by the Association of Energy Engineers.

Gap, Inc. has dubbed April “Earth Month” to shine a light on its environmental and conservation initiatives. What you may not know is that for the past 20 years, Gap has donated all kinds of recyclables to Materials for the Arts – resulting in 29,814 pounds of materials being diverted from landfills in the last three years alone. Now that’s a creative way to protect the environment.

Macy’s employees have given back to their communities in a big way, donating more than 125,000 of their personal time for community service. It’s a habit rooted in the company culture. According to their 2013 Social Responsibility Report, contributions to non-profit organizations — including employee contributions through workplace giving campaigns and customer contributions through signature giving programs — totaled more than $70 million in 2012.

These are just a handful of ways retailers are showing that retail is more than shopping – it’s also about supporting the communities they serve. How do you celebrate Earth Day every day? Let us know in the comments.

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NRF has a history of bringing retailers together, with one voice, in Washington, DC. For the last 103 years, retailers have turned to NRF to advocate for issues that matter to their business. But at its core, effective advocacy is about bringing people who care about their business, and issues that matter to their business, together with lawmakers who make decisions. Anyone can be an advocate in Washington, unite with others to support change, and make their voice heard by policymakers.

Passage of landmark sales tax fairness legislation during our annual fly-in last year is a perfect example. Personal stories from 30 states delivered a powerful message on the need to level the playing field between brick-and-mortar and online retailers, and ultimately had a significant impact that led to congressional action.

This year, we are making one change to reflect the idea that we are all advocates. NRF’s annual fly-in has been known for more than 80 years as the Washington Leadership Conference. Its new name – Retail Advocates Summit – reinforces the original mission and purpose: retailers who are passionate about policies they believe in can come to Washington to be advocates for change. It takes a broad coalition, from retailers large and small, to send a loud and clear message to Washington on the issues that matter to our industry.

Congress makes decisions everyday that directly impact retail. Retail Advocates Summit is your chance to educate elected officials and have a say about the issues affecting your bottom line. Now is the time to make your voice heard. Join us this July on Capitol Hill and be an advocate for retail.

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A few weeks ago, our team moved into a great new office in downtown Washington, D.C. It is said that moving is one of the most stressful experiences you can go through, but for NRF, it’s also been an invigorating and energizing one. Our new home is sleek, modern, bright and open. No detail was overlooked and the end result is an office space with dynamic energy — the same energy that drives our members and the industry we represent.

New NRF and NRF division logos

We started changing from the inside out, first with our offices and then with our big logo reveal. Now all of the NRF divisions, councils and committees are getting a logo facelift to represent their unique and critical role in advancing our mission on behalf of retail. Working together makes us a stronger organization, plain and simple. Starting today, you’re going to start seeing these new logos everywhere.

Why the change? If we’re going to be effective as the voice of retail, we know we need to evolve at the same pace as our members, and there’s not a more vibrant industry sector in the world. The new logo speaks to the pride and commitment we have at NRF for our mission on behalf of retailers across the globe. We ARE “The Voice of Retail,” and the logo leaves no room for doubt that we intend to be bold and strong in our work for the industry and the consumers they serve.

The new website

The update to our office and our logos is just the beginning. All retailers now know that the physical experience and the online experience should be seamless and complementary. So, next month we’ll launch the pièce de résistance: a new NRF.com. No matter what community you’re a part of—Shop.org, ARTS or the Loss Prevention Advisory Council—the new website will give you improved tools for finding the information you need. It will be easier to use, attractive, more functional, informative, mobile-friendly (of course), and even, dare I say, fun to browse. We’re working hard to get this ready for you, and I know you’re truly going to enjoy it.

New home sweet home

Take a look at our photo gallery to check out our new space—and stay tuned for the big reveal of our website.

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With unemployment ticking down and retail employment on the upward climb – retail has grown by more than 600,000 employees since 2010 – it’s time to talk about what comes after talent acquisition: talent retention.

A strengthening economy means that companies have a choice in employees, and employees have choices in companies. A recent global study by LinkedIn showed that – across all industries – compensation and benefits are the top motivators for employed individuals who are not actively on the job hunt to consider taking a new job. This means that even if your employees aren’t browsing the NRF Job Board every day, they could potentially be lured away by a better benefits package or a boost in salary.

According to the same survey, those who are actively seeking a new place to plant their pencil cup would be most interested in better opportunities for advancement, but consider compensation and benefits the next important factor in deciding to leave their current company.

As they say, money isn’t everything, and a lot more than salary goes into an employee’s decision to stay at her current company, look for a new opportunity or accept a job offer. However, understanding how your company’s paystubs stack up against similar companies and positions is invaluable insight for remaining competitive. To help retailers with this, the NRF Foundation partners with Mercer on an industry-exclusive annual benchmarking survey: the U.S. Retail Compensation & Benefits Survey. The end result is a report that provides compensation data for more than 225 specific positions – including everything from a store custodian to a director of e-commerce – with the ability to segment by company size, geographic location and merchandise category.

While the 2013 survey is still available for purchase, participation in the 2014 survey is now open – and we strongly recommend participating if you’re thinking about purchasing the report. Here’s why:

  • Participants can compare their own data directly with market data, getting a true apples-to-apples look.
  • Participants get access to webcasts that highlight key findings, insights and related industry/economic context.
  • Participants get 50% off the already discounted NRF Member price for the results.

The survey database also reports information on retail-specific practices including pay philosophy, commissions, shift differentials, turnover, performance and recognition programs, benefit plans, paid time off, recruiting and retention practices, and employee discounts.

The 2014 survey is in full swing and will be open through April 30. Now is the time to participate and discover how your data compares to others in the industry. Learn more and download a questionnaire to get started, and email with any questions or concerns.

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Men’s fashion is one of the hottest segments in retail today. And in the last few years, men have stepped-up their shopping and taken a greater interest in their appearance, which has helped spur innovation across the industry.

More men are tuned in to the latest fashion and trends. Since 2006, the share of male consumers who say that the newest trends and styles are important to them has nearly doubled. And the brands and labels of clothing are a more important factor for male shoppers than in years past.

Feelings About Fashion

Charts from the NRF Foundation’s Retail Insight Center. To access this data and more research please visit the Retail Insight Center.

As men heighten their interest in the latest style, they increase their spending as well. In 2012, about two-thirds (65 percent) of spending on men’s sportcoats and tailored jackets is attributed to male consumers – up from 61 percent of spending the year prior.

Menswear and online shopping is trending, and it’s no surprise that brands who build their business models off this trend are thriving. Take Indochino for example – the online menswear company uses a tailored (pun-intended) algorithm to ensure the perfect fit for custom suiting. They’ve been so successful that the brand has ventured into the brick-and-mortar space through Traveling Tailor pop-up shops in targeted metro areas.

It’s obvious that this Vancouver-based retailer is at the cutting edge of these trends. Take a behind-the-scenes look to see how Indochino’s approach to custom suits is driving a new era in men’s shopping.

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In the past 12 months, we’ve partnered with more than 40 retail brands to tell a different type of story about retail careers, how brands support the communities they serve and how retailers are driving an innovative shopping experience for their customers. As the campaign manager for this initiative, I’ve had the (amazing) opportunity to experience some pretty cool moments with some of the best and brightest in our industry. Here are my top five:

Generating excitement about retail careers. When we announced the launch of the campaign at last year’s Global Retailing Conference, Xandria Leopold, a retail consumer sciences student at the University of Arizona, shared with the Arizona Daily Star that she was excited about the campaign because, “it makes me proud of retail.”

Retailers at WLC13

Retailers on Capitol Hill during NRF’s 2013 Washington Leadership Conference

Impacting Capitol Hill perceptions of the industry. In May of last year, our annual fly-in offered our members a chance to tell lawmakers what retail meant to them and the results were pretty powerful.

Showcasing retail’s impact on communities. As thousands of retail loss prevention employees gathered for our yearly conference last June, we asked them to share stories of how their companies and teams support the communities they serve. The responses were so overwhelming that NRF even donated $1,000 to support “Strokes for Strokes.”  At the same time, I had the opportunity to talk with Boston Police Department Night Commander William Gross about the immediate assistance area retailers provided in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy. His story was awe-inspiring.

Explaining the full impact of policy decisions on Main Street. In October, Congress decided it was time to take a break from work.  Our members were able to use This is Retail to share their thoughts on the real effect the government shutdown had back home. As Andrew Brewer, owner of Onion River Sports in Montpelier, Vt., pointed out, “When you’re far enough removed from real life, from what’s really happening on Main Street America and you’re trying to solve these huge problems, you forget the real effect it has on people.”

Uncovering stories from brands large and small. Take a look behind the scenes at some who have helped reveal some of the more “invisible” jobs in retail – ones those outside the industry might never know existed.   

It’s been an amazing first year. But too many people still believe the myth that retail is low-wage, low-tech, and low-talent. NRF enters year two of This is Retail: Careers, Community and Innovation as committed as ever to fundamentally transforming that misperception of retail. And we want you to join us.

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You’ve probably heard us talking a lot about patent trolls and the need to stop their deceptive practices. But even if your business hasn’t been affected yet, it’s worth your time to pay close attention to an issue that’s impacting retailers of all sizes.

The fact is, patents touch nearly every aspect of retail operations. But patent trolls have built a business on suing retailers for things the troll didn’t invent and the retailer is using legitimately. Here are a few areas where patent trolls have taken Main Street businesses to court:

1)      Wi-Fi. One of the earliest cases involved small businesses who were sued for using patented Wi-Fi routers in their stores.

2)      Payments. BrandsMart Executive Vice President Lary Sinewitz testified before the House Judiciary Committee in November that his business was targeted for using technology that enables debit cards and gift cards to process information from the magnetic stripe on the back of the card.

3)      Smartphone apps. More than 40 online retailers were sued or threatened by a California company that claimed to hold a patent on the technology that enabled them to link to privacy policies posted on their website.

4)      Online shopping cart. A software company accused Newegg and a number of other retailers of infringement of patents on online shopping carts. Thankfully, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Newegg and the U.S. Supreme Court let the ruling stand.

5)      Scan-to-email. Appropriately named “scanner trolls,” a troll company filed claims demanding that small businesses pay $1,000 per worker who attached scanned documents to email. And these lawsuits haven’t gone away.

If you’re like most retailers, you’ve probably realized that your business uses these common technologies. Fortunately, Congress has shown a willingness to protect retailers and other businesses from vague, frivolous patent claims like these. But trolls and their supporters have been very active in this fight, arguing for measures that won’t effectively alleviate the problem

Retailers – and all innovators – need protection through a provision like a “customer stay” that would put a patent troll’s lawsuit against a business owner on hold if there is a pending suit against the manufacturer from whom the business owner got the technology. In order to stop patent trolls in their tracks, you have to contact your Senators today.

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If you read a recent blog post on the Wall Street Journal’s web site – Card Security Costs Outweigh Benefits for Many – you would think retailers are considering whether it would be a better “return on investment” to just continue paying fraud costs rather than switch to new credit and debit cards that banks plan to begin issuing next year. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s rare that a news article is so misleading that it needs more than a simple correction or a letter to the editor to make things right, but this is a case where I’d like to set the record straight.

The fact is that retailers are willing to spend whatever it takes to protect our customers and their card data. If customers don’t trust us with their data they won’t shop with us, so we have a vested interest in doing the right thing.

But in spending the $30 billion-plus it could take to replace every credit card reader in America, retailers have one overriding demand – let’s provide consumers with all of the security that’s available, not just a piece of it. That means cards not just with chips but PINs as well, end-to-end encryption of data and/or use of “tokens” that eliminate the need for retailers to store data at all, and other steps such as using smartphones to improve the security of transactions.

While there are many solutions to explore, the issue grabbing headlines at the moment is that banks want to issue new cards that would replace the easy-to-copy magnetic stripe currently used to hold data with an encrypted, embedded microchip that is next to impossible to counterfeit.

There’s no argument that chip cards are more secure than magnetic stripe cards. In fact, they are used in more than 80 countries around the world, and have reduced fraud in the United Kingdom alone by 75 percent, according to one study.

But the cards in those countries all have something in common that would not necessarily be the case here in the United States – the use of a chip is combined with mandatory use of a Personal Identification Number.

While the chip authenticates that the card is legitimate, the PIN replaces easy-to-forge signatures in authenticating that the person using the card is the legitimate cardholder. Unlike an illegible scrawl the means nothing, the PIN is a secret number known only to the cardholder and the bank and makes it impossible to use a fraudulent card even if a criminal manages to get around the security of the chip. If the chip protects the bank, the PIN protects the consumer.

The cards planned here would use the same Europay MasterCard Visa system used around the world. But instead of requiring a PIN to be used, PIN use would be left up to the banks issuing the cards. Despite an October 2015 target for the switchover, only one major bank – J.P. Morgan Chase – has announced plans for PIN cards here.

Why would the card industry not offer U.S. consumers the same security they offer consumers in the rest of the world?

According to papers recently unsealed from a 1997 lawsuit retailers brought against card company practices, Visa acknowledged at a 1990 meeting that PIN is safer than signatures. The papers show that Visa executives rated PIN as the “safest product” for both consumers and banks with “less fraud” and praised it as “consumer friendly” and easy to use. The same executives praised signature cards for their “proven profitability,” citing fees collected both from merchants and consumers.

In the fight between “safest product” and “proven profitability,” it might not be surprising which bankers would consider most important.

The irony is that using PINs rather than signatures would block a substantial amount of fraud even if banks stuck with magnetic stripes and chip cards were never issued. And more than twice as many merchants have PIN pads as have chip card readers (even though stores are installing chip equipment every day). Retailers aren’t saying they don’t want chip, but PIN is something that could have been done a generation ago. And given the pressure to do something quickly, it’s a goal that could be reached much more quickly than chip.

Many have asked whether retailers will meet the October 2015 deadline as if the date had been mutually agreed upon or was somehow officially sanctioned. In fact, it is a deadline imposed unilaterally by the card industry and, in any case, there’s no point in retailers installing new card equipment until banks have issued new cards. And if the banks don’t issue cards that provide sufficient security – meaning both chip and PIN – some retailers might consider whether there are more efficient ways to safeguard their customers.

Are retailers concerned about return on investment when it comes to replacing current card equipment with new equipment? We absolutely are. But the question isn’t whether to continue with the status quo. The ROI we’re looking for is the maximum protection that can be provided to our customers. To retailers, “safest product” is a far more valuable return than “proven profitability.”

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Humorist Garrison Keillor once wrote, “I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it.” For some reason, a number of politicians in Washington have taken this to heart and have decided this is the best way to govern.

It’s the only way to explain why those same politicians consistently try to redefine the reality of what American consumers are most concerned about, denying those consumers the clarity they seek for a financially secure future.

Recently, Prosper Insights and Analytics surveyed 6,387 adults, asking “What are the three most important issues that you think Congress should focus on in 2014?” Topping the list was the U.S. economy (52 percent), followed closely by job creation/unemployment (47 percent), and finally the federal budget/debt (40 percent). That’s the reality.

But our elected officials are looking that simple reality straight in the eye, and denying it. Time and time again, we are told that Americans are more concerned about raising the minimum wage. In fact, only 23 percent of those polled put that issue in their top three, with healthcare (39 percent) and tax reform (24 percent) as greater priorities. Immigration? 20 percent. Renewable energy sources? 16 percent. View complete survey here.

Three Issues Congress Should Focus On In 2014

Charts from the NRF Foundation’s Retail Insight Center. To access this data and more research please visit the Retail Insight Center.

On minimum wage, even those polled who are making an annual salary of $50,000 or less ranked the issue fifth in their list of priorities (28 percent). Job creation/unemployment was their primary concern (50 percent), followed by the economy (50 percent) and healthcare (40 percent).

It should come as no surprise that a Gallup poll recently found that just 19 percent of Americans rate current U.S. economic conditions as excellent or good while 34 percent say they are poor. Gallup found that 44 percent say the economy is getting better, while 51 percent say it is getting worse.

If you went to a physician suffering chest pain and shortness of breath, you certainly wouldn’t want the doctor spending more time focusing on cosmetic issues such as hair loss and acne. It’s time for our politicians to stop denying reality and start confronting the real issues that will bring the American consumer the relief they seek in order to build a brighter, more secure future for themselves and their children.

It’s not just a desire; it’s a startling clear, simple and undeniable reality.

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