Some might not feel so lucky that St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Monday this year, but 55 percent of Americans won’t let a case of the Mondays stand in their way. According to NRF’s St. Patrick’s Day consumer survey conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, 133 million people will celebrate the Irish holiday this year. Total spending on the day’s festivities is expected to reach $4.8 billion, essentially flat with last year.

Although spending on the green holiday is small in comparison with other consumer holidays, it’s still a social event in communities across the country and an important day for the retail industry. Consumers will celebrate their Irish roots or Irish-American culture in a variety of festive ways. The average person will spend $35, increasing traffic for grocery stores, restaurants and stores selling green apparel.

There’s no question it’s a popular holiday for millennials – 77 percent of 18-24 year-olds plan to celebrate and 90 percent of them will wear something green. Those in their 20s and 30s will flock to restaurants and bars with their friends, looking for the best deals on green beverages while dressing in creative green outfits, Irish costumes and festive accessories. Asked how they will celebrate, 45 percent of 25-34 year olds will attend a party at a bar or restaurant; others will attend a private event.

But Americans of all ages will look to celebrate in a variety of ways; eight in 10 of those celebrating this year said they will wear green and another one in five will decorate their home or office with St. Patrick’s Day decor.

You can dig deeper into the data in the Retail Insight Center. But as the Irish say, “there are only two kinds of people in the world. The Irish and those who wish they were.” How do you plan to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year?

St Pattys2014_NRFdata

View St. Patrick’s Day data in the Retail Insight Center

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The nation’s leading economic thought-leaders were in Virginia this week for the 30th annual Economic Policy Conference held by the National Association for Business Economics. Attendees heard from top economic policymakers and regulators including former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman and Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf on issues ranging from banking regulation and health care spending to infrastructure investment and international trade.

While the experts expressed conflicting post-recessionary analysis from historical and political perspectives – some were optimistic, others pessimistic – the conference found consensus on one issue: tax reform. And considering the tax reform package released today by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., it was a timely topic.

With more than 500 attendees watching, a panel moderated by NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay featured former directors of the Congressional Budget Office Alice Rivlin and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, with each discussing their steadfast support for reforming the 101-year-old tax system and the need to address both corporate and individual tax rates. Watch a clip from the panel below or visit C-SPAN.com to view in its entirety.

Shay_2014NABEpolicyconference

Watch the segment.

NRF has long supported comprehensive tax reform that would lower tax rates for all businesses in return for closing tax breaks that benefit only a few. NRF believes such an approach would make American companies more competitive with the world, spur business investment and help produce more jobs and opportunity. Shay said Camp’s proposal would benefit both retailers and their customers: “This is good for the economy, and what’s good for the economy is good for retail.”

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You’ve heard of omnichannel retailing – now meet the “omnichannel recruiter.” Much as retailers are working to create a seamless shopping experience from store to computer to smartphone, retail recruiters are now using the full range of digital channels to fill job openings.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 350,000 job openings in the retail industry as of December 2013. To fulfill the need for talent, retail recruiters have taken to online recruiting, exploring new and exciting ways to connect with the modern-day job seeker.

Here’s a breakdown of the top three online channels retailers are using to attract and recruit talent, and the “omnichannel recruiters” doing it right:

Social Media is a fast-growing platform for retail recruiters to not only to find job candidates but to vet them as well. According to a survey performed by Jobvite, “social job seekers” – people who use social networking to look for employment opportunities – are on the rise. Candidates are increasingly turning to LinkedIn (23 percent), Facebook (19 percent), Google+ (16 percent), Instagram (16 percent) and Twitter (13 percent) to learn more about prospective employers.

With more than 300,000 followers, Walmart makes the most of their LinkedIn page. In addition to highlighting open positions, they use the page to  keep applicants informed of company news and initiatives and also showcase stand-out employees. Meanwhile, Macy’s is a prime example of retailers successfully using Twitter to promote career opportunities. Regularly tweeting with @MacysCollege, recruiters connect with millennials by micro-blogging their events and activities during collegiate visits, sharing career advice for young workers and even allowing interns to tweet their personal experiences working for the company from the account.

Blogs have proven to be a “fan favorite” among retailers who want to showcase their company culture and promote the value of their work environments as the importance of companies being the right “fit” for employees continues to grow.

At Benefit Cosmetics, the “Friends with Benefit” blog encourages job seekers to “get to know the personalities behind (the) fun-loving world of makeup” with employee-written posts that detail job roles and functions within the company. The Career Blog by Target provides tips and best practices for job candidates to determine how their skills and passion align with the positions currently available. And you certainly can’t talk about retail bloggers without mentioning The Container Store. Their “What We Stand For” blog is proof of their employee-first culture in action. It’s regularly updated with posts highlighting the advancement of employees, leaders they admire – and, of course, things they stand for like national “We Love Our Employees Day.”

Spring Career Fair

Learn more or register for NRF’s Virtual Career Fair.

Virtual Career Fairs are becoming increasingly popular among retail recruiters seeking to connect with job candidates across the nation without having to spend time or money on travelling. Virtual career fairs allow employers to connect live and one-on-one with hundreds of jobs seekers at one time. As retail recruiters continue to pioneer new ways to reach top talent online, NRF is committed to meeting them half way.

In 2013, NRF hosted an inaugural virtual career fair for students and young professionals that attracted 830 job candidates and 19 retailers. In a post-event survey, 100 percent of recruiters who responded said they would participate in another virtual fair. Given the success of the first event, NRF will host its second virtual career fair on April 2. Macy’s, Nordstrom, Gordman’s and H-E-B have already signed up to participate, and there’s still time for more companies to join.

If your company is seeking high-performing students and young professionals for its training and development programs, internships, or entry-level positions, register for the NRF Virtual Career Fair. The early registration rate expires this Friday, and space is limited, so secure your spot today.

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For more than a generation, U.S. credit cards have carried account numbers and other data on a magnetic stripe that has made them easy to swipe through a card reader at the cash register while the customer signs for the purchase.

Stripe and swipe was a great technology in the 1980s, the decade the cassette tape Walkman and the Apple Macintosh computer came out.

But in a day when thieves half a world away can hack into a computer system to steal card data rather than breaking into a bank to steal cash, “stripe and swipe” is about as high-tech as an 8-track tape.

That’s why NRF and the retail industry have been pushing cards that encrypt data on an embedded micro-chip and protect consumers by using a secret Personal Identification Number (PIN) rather than relying on the illegible scrawl most people pass off as a signature. You wouldn’t want to rely on a signature to get cash out of an ATM, so why rely on a signature when you use a credit or debit card?

This week, NRF boiled down the advantages of new PIN and Chip technology over old-fashioned stripe-and-swipe with a new infographic.

The easy-to-understand infographic shows two scenarios:

  • When a physical card is stolen, a thief can use a magnetic stripe card simply by signing the cardholder’s name, while they are blocked from using a PIN and Chip card because they don’t know the PIN.
  • When card numbers are stolen, a thief can easily create a counterfeit magnetic stripe card and sign for the transaction, but a chip card is almost impossible to duplicate and the PIN would block its use even if it could be duplicated.

“PIN and Chip prevents credit card fraud … and protects you,” the infographic reads. “The safest cards deploy both PIN and Chip technology.”

The infographic and NRF’s Myths and Facts on card security were sent to Capitol Hill today. Both will be used as NRF continues to educate policymakers and the public on the retail industry’s efforts to protect consumers against criminals trying to steal their card data.

For more, go to www.nrf.com/datasecurity.

MagStrip_vs_PinChip

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We’re not quite giving away something for nothing here, but as far as opportunities go, a full-tuition scholarship in exchange for three short essays and one letter, is a pretty phenomenal deal.

Here are five things you need to know about the Dream BIG scholarship program:

1. The scholarship ISN’T for students. It’s for you.
If you work in retail, you can apply for this scholarship program. You can work in a corporate office, own your own store, work in a distribution center, a store, from your own home or a satellite office. As long as you are employed by a retailer, full-time or part-time, this scholarship is for you. Any level, any position – sales associate, senior director, loss prevention manager, pharmacist, designer, marketing coordinator – just to name a few. Start your application here.

2. It’s competitive.
The applications we got last year were seriously impressive. To apply for Dream BIG you have to submit three essays about your retail career aspirations, why you love retail and your biggest inspiration. You also need a letter of recommendation from someone who works in the retail industry and knows you well. Pulling together a great application takes time. The judges are looking for passion, originality and high quality writing. But if you’re lucky enough to be selected as a recipient you’ll be in great company. Our recipients from 2013 were the brightest and best out of hundreds of applications. You can hear from some of them in this video:

 

3. It’s a full ride.
We’re not giving you some money toward a degree – we’re giving you a full-tuition scholarship for a bachelor’s or master’s program (including an MBA) with the University of Phoenix. And because of the flexibility of the University of Phoenix programs, you can continue to work and live at home while you study.

4. It’s judged by retail leaders.
CEOs of retail companies and other industry leaders are going to read your essays and find out what your retail career aspirations are and why you love retail. They know their stuff. They’re looking for people they might hire one day, people who have passion and enthusiasm for the industry they love too. This is your opportunity to shine and make a seriously good impression. No pressure.

5. It’s just one way we’re helping to promote the GREAT careers in our industry.
Here at NRF, we’re retail advocates. It’s what we do and it’s why we’re here. We know that talented, driven and ambitious people thrive in retail, and there are thousands of career paths in retail that provide growth and professional satisfaction to millions of retail workers. If you love retail as much as we do, we want to help you advance your career. Apply for Dream BIG now!

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After interviewing a candidate, how often have you asked yourself “Is this someone I’d want to go out after work with?” Or, “Is this someone I’d want to be stuck on an airplane with for four hours?”

CEB_highperformer_Feb14

CEB’s Model of High Performance: Individual Task Performance + Network Performance = Enterprise Contribution

At the last meeting of the Retail Recruiter Network, the Corporate Executive Board presented and shared research on “Selecting High-Quality Hires for Today’s New Work Environment,” and explained that hiring for network fit – versus culture fit – can improve the quality of the hire by 30 percent. Brett Agypt, CEB’s associate director of research, delved into this concept of “network fit” and “network performance” by saying that in today’s work environment, employees – particularly newly hired employees – are increasingly relied on to coordinate and collaborate with people across multiple departments and different functions. An employee’s relationship with their manager is no longer the most important relationship. Silos are breaking down, and employees need to “fit” with their entire network of colleagues.

So, what does it mean to have network fit? CEB describes it as a new kind of high performer: a person with network fit is someone who makes contributions to the organization’s entire enterprise. How do they do that? It is a combination of individual task performance (someone who has a high output of work that is error-free) and network performance (someone who communicates good ideas and helps deliver on a collaborative product). When a new hire excels at their individual task and network performance, you have a high quality hire.

As your company starts thinking about your hiring needs, here are a few questions retailers should ask themselves:

  1. Who will be in the new hire’s “network“? According to CEB, more than half of employees regularly work with people outside of their team. Recruiters and hiring managers should work together to identify the formal peers – team members and direct reports – and informal peers – colleagues in other businesses units – for a position. If you anticipate change in this person’s role in the next six months, identify how they will fit with future peers.
  2. What competencies should you be hiring for? CEB’s study show that the vast majority (84 percent) of a new hire’s performance is a function of hiring for competencies that complement – and not just conform to – their peers. This means don’t try to replicate your highest performers or duplicate their skill sets. Instead, new hires should have expertise that makes up for what the team lacks.
  3. Who should be on the hiring team? Aside from recruiters and hiring managers working together, CEB’s analysis shows including the peer groups in the process can give you a 10 percent better hire. Peers understand how candidates can fit with the broader work environment, so introduce prospect candidates to the people they will work closely with before they are hired.

Sure, it is perfectly OK for a manager to hire someone they want to hang out with after work – but don’t expect this to mean they will also be a high-performer. Managers should prioritize fit with peers and not just themselves. More awareness of the new hire’s fit with their peers’ competencies, values and work preferences means the whole organization will benefit from their contribution.

For information on this topic, visit the CEB site to download infographics and more key findings from this report.

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AN14_80x80-2Consumers don’t think about shopping and say, “I want an omnichannel experience.” But their expectation is that shopping will be seamless between stores and devices. So if omnichannel is an industry-created term, what does it mean?

achievingomnichannelsuccess_nrf14breakout

Kohl’s SVP of E-commerce Mike Molitor (left) talks supply chain processes and standards for omnichannel fulfillment with Hudson Bay’s Dan C. Smith, Macy’s Peter Longo and GS1′s Bob Carpenter.

At Retail’s BIG Show, executives from Macy’s, Kohl’s, Hudson Bay and GS1 tried to answer that question. While retailers might have their own approaches to achieving a seamless experience, each agreed that the answer relies on efficient and accurate logistics. And technology is the key to allowing retailers, suppliers and distribution networks – the full scope of the retail supply chain – to be on the same page.

As Kohl’s Senior Vice President of E-commerce Mike Molitor explained, there is no single omnichannel manual. “It’s been a little bit of a ‘wild wild west,’ ” he said. “The process of revamping product information system relies on important pieces of information from suppliers.” But retailers are setting their own standards and requirements, such as RFID, which could put stress on suppliers. One-off solutions can get in the way of an environment that approaches and resolves supply chain issues universally, Molitor emphasized.

In a global supply chain, communication and community between retailers and suppliers are paramount. To achieve synchronicity, Macy’s President of Logistics and Operations Peter Longo suggested that the relationship could be transformed with this idea: that the end goal should be for merchandise to land in a customer’s home rather than on store shelves. Longo said loyalty can be lost quickly if products aren’t where a consumer wants them, when they want them and how they want them. In a world where more retailers are leveraging buy online/pickup-in-store, inaccuracies could mean irreparable customer relationships.

There is a laundry list of supply chain to-dos for retailers. While there will always be demands to improve the customer experience, “there is a bigger need to get everyone on the same page internally,” Hudson Bay Trading Company CIO Dan Smith said. Perhaps “omnichannel” can be viewed in a way that Longo put it: the complete integration of promotion, packaging, merchandising and pricing to create a unified experience, in-store and online. Certainly easier said than done.

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With the recent theft of millions of consumers’ credit card numbers drawing headlines, the facts are frequently being carelessly mingled with misunderstandings, misleading statements and a certain amount of fiction. NRF would like to set the record straight. Here are some key myths and facts.

Myth: Retailers aren’t working to protect card data.

Fact: Maintaining the trust and respect of customers is retailers’ highest priority, and they have a vested interest in protecting consumers’ financial information – customers won’t shop in a store they don’t trust. Retailers have spent billions of dollars to protect card data using sophisticated computer systems with the latest in encryption, firewalls and other high-tech security measures. Retailers recognize that cyber theft can only be stopped with a united, multi-industry effort – banks, card networks and payment processors all have a role to play – and want to be part of that solution.

NRF_Retailers are part of the data security solution

Retailers care about this issue because we are committed to combating this criminal threat to our customers and the industry.

Myth: Most cyber attacks and data thefts occur at retailers.

Fact: Data breaches at retailers account for 24 percent of incidents, while 37 percent happen at financial institutions, according to the most recent report from Verizon. And that’s true even though there are many more retailers than financial institutions. Other businesses ranging from manufacturing to transportation have also been hit. And government agencies as varied as the U.S. Army and the IRS see more than 60 data breaches per day.

Myth: Retailers don’t want to switch to PIN and Chip cards.

Fact: Retailers have been calling for PIN and Chip for years. Retailers want to move to move to modern cards that replace signatures with a secret personal identification number and which encrypt card data on an embedded computer micro-chip instead of storing it on a magnetic stripe. Cards like these are widely used in Europe and about 80 countries around the world, and a U.K. study found they have reduced fraud by 70 percent. A number of retailers have already installed the card readers and other equipment necessary for these new cards. But banks have been slow to issue them in the United States, instead proposing cards that would have a chip but still use a fraud-prone, easy-to-forge signature rather than a secure PIN to authenticate the transaction. That’s no match for 21st Century criminals.

Myth: Retailers don’t want to pay for the costs of PIN and Chip.

Fact: Retailers are willing to pay a fair share of the cost of conversion. But they want a system that will actually reduce fraud and protect everyone – consumers, retailers and banks alike. They don’t want to spend billions of dollars on a chip and signature system like that proposed by the banks that only addresses part of the problem when better systems are available. And since credit cards are a product that belongs to the banks, banks should share in the cost of equipment and software needed to accommodate their product.

Myth: PIN and Chip is the only thing retailers are doing to improve security.

Fact: Retailers don’t see even the best forms of PIN and Chip as a complete solution. Retailers are taking a “defense in depth” approach and are exploring additional security layers such as point-to-point encryption of data along with emerging technology such as mobile payments made using smartphones. Retailers have also sought to reduce the amount of data that card companies require them to retain: NRF asked in 2007 that retailers be allowed to keep only an approval code for each transaction, with banks retaining all card data that could be used to commit fraud. The card industry has yet to make the change.

Myth: Retailers don’t notify customers fast enough when card information is stolen.

Fact: A total of 46 states and the District of Columbia legally require retailers to notify customers of data breaches. But retailers work closely with law enforcement when customer data is stolen, and authorities often ask that they temporarily delay disclosure in order to avoid tipping off criminals that the incident has been detected and is under investigation.

Myth: Visa and MasterCard’s “EMV” cards would make data secure.

Fact: EMV – short for “Europay, MasterCard and Visa” – is only one brand of card system that uses a chip. And while the version used in Europe provides both a PIN and chip, the version currently proposed for the United States would not require a PIN, still allowing an easy-to-forge signature to be used. Retailers believe a PIN is essential to protecting card data.

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MER_110x95b2013 was a challenging year for retailers that concluded with one of the most interesting holiday seasons on record. Looking ahead in 2014, the economic outlook is strengthening and the moderate growth seen during the second half of 2013 should provide greater confidence as we move further into the New Year.

NRF expects retail industry sales (which exclude automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) for 2014 to increase 4.1 percent over the previous year—slightly higher than the preliminary 3.7 percent growth the industry garnered in 2013. Digital channels will also experience solid growth this year, with online sales expected to increase between 9 and 12 percent, the same pace as the preliminary 10.3 percent gain in 2013.*

But before we look ahead, let’s look at 2013. The economy progressed slowly early in the year but gave way to stronger results in the second half. Specifically, the overall economy grew a mere 1.1 percent annual rate during the first quarter last year, rising to 4.1 percent in the third quarter and moderating to 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter. And, job creation, still very much needed in this economic recovery, had an average monthly growth rate of 182,500 last year, seen by many as ‘unspectacular.’

The pace of retail sales growth was only 4 percent faster than it was in 2012, based on the three-month moving average, year-over-year. And though that appears steady, we know that retail spending throughout 2013 was incredibly volatile, falling off in the spring to just 3.2 percent year-over-year average growth.

Consumers started the year faced with higher taxes, surging gasoline prices and federal budget cuts, and while these factors eventually evened themselves out in relation to the impact on consumer spending, interest rate increases in May and June, and the Federal policy impasse in the fall pulled the economy in the opposite direction. Despite these challenges, consumer spending remained resilient and continues to contribute greatly to the current momentum.

Although early reports for the holiday season came in blurry, American consumers gave the economy a boost in the final months of the year. It was a tricky holiday season to navigate by retailers and consumers alike; initial concerns about a hangover from October’s federal government shutdown, a shortened holiday season calendar and unusually strong winter storms all proved to be quiet challenging for companies looking to make the most of consumers limited discretionary budgets. As early as October, intense promotion and discounting ensued, continuing well into the season. This synopsis is available to NRF members in the Monthly Economic Review report.

Looking ahead to 2014, while the economy looks better for retailers, consumers could be conditioned to expect a continuation of holiday promotions and discounts, putting pressure on many retailers’ bottom lines once again.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the fundamental building blocks for the year ahead:

  • Economic growth is expected to be above its long-term historical average. My baseline estimate for growth in the economy as measured by real GDP is between 2.6 and 3 percent, a noticeable improvement from the estimated 1.9 percent rate for 2013, and the fastest pace in the past three years.
  • The labor market is expected to continue its modest recovery averaging approximately 185,000 jobs per month, helping drop unemployment to near 6.5 percent or lower by the end of 2014.
  • Inflation as measured by the CPI is predicted to inch higher to as much as 1.7 percent in 2014.
  • The housing sector is expected to continue to improve in 2014, and stronger household and business confidence should spur more consumers spending overall.

While I am cautiously optimistic, we cannot discount the unexpected possibility of a replay of the last two years. Though government headwinds subsided in part due to the bipartisan budget agreement, there are other issues creating uncertainty. The expired Emergency Unemployment Compensation, the debt ceiling, and other regulatory uncertainty pose downside risks to the outlook.

Regarding Federal Reserve monetary policy, the data outlined above is consistent with their decision to reduce asset purchases. However, their challenge is to bring about a normalization of short-term interest rates without creating undue market volatility, letting inflation get out of control and undoing all the positive effects of their multi-year efforts. Of course geo-political issues are ever present. Slower global growth, a tightening of financial conditions or a pop in oil prices are all major risks to the outlook.

Bottom line: given the strong performance of recent economic data and the appearance of a healthier consumer and business outlook, 2014 could finally be the year that the recovery gets traction. While I am confident in the economy’s progress, the pace is not expected to reduce the slack that accumulated during the recent recession.

*NRF forecasted 3.4 percent increase in retail sales for 2013 and online sales to grow between 9.0 and 12.0 percent. Final 2013 revisions will be available from the U.S. Census on or about April 30, 2014

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The thefts of credit and debit card numbers we’ve seen in the United States during the past couple of months reinforced a harsh reality – that these incidents have, unfortunately, become a fact of life. As NRF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mallory Duncan said during testimony this week before the subcommittee of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, every system is vulnerable to the most sophisticated of thieves.

Hackers don’t discriminate. In its 2013 data breach investigations report, Verizon analyzed more than 47,000 security incidents that took place during the prior year. Virtually every part of the economy was hit in some way: 37 percent of data breaches happened at financial institutions; 24 percent at retail establishments; 20 percent at manufacturing, transportation and utility companies; and 20 percent at information and professional services firms.

Retailers have taken the increasing number of payment card incidents very seriously, making significant investments in data protection, focusing on security training for their software developers, and educating their employees. As thieves continue to hone their craft, retailers are continuously updating policies, procedures and equipment to further mitigate risk.

But the fight against cyber criminals can’t be won alone. In addition to Monday’s testimony before Congress, Duncan appeared Tuesday on Bloomberg TV. Watch Duncan explain the economics of these security breaches and call for a united front – from policymakers to the technology that supports all points of transaction – to ensure that steps are taken to prevent future breaches.

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