The National Retail Federation Big Show is traditionally held in New York each January, with thousands of exhibitors and over 10,000 attendees from around the world. For the first time, the event has expanded its scope by moving to Singapore with the support of retail associations, suppliers, retail brands, and the Singapore Tourism Board. In Australia, we can be guilty of overlooking opportunities to expand our retail relationships and markets beyond the USA and Europe.

Housing 60% of the world’s population, the Asia-Pacific region represents an immense and rapidly growing market for retail. This growth is driven by rapid urbanisation, exemplified by Singapore’s emergence as a major commercial and cultural destination on the global stage. Furthermore, the Singaporean appetite for and expertise in utilising digital and innovative technologies were prominently displayed at the conference.

In fact, over 65% of all global e-commerce comes from this region, showcasing the rapid adaptation of digital and large language models.

Singapore was both a strategic and symbolic choice for this event, culminating in a landmark occasion.

The National Retail Association was represented by Co-CEO Rob Godwin and The Lottery Corporation Chief Channel Officer and NRA board member Antony Moore. Working with industry luminary Brian Walker from Retail Doctor Group, we hosted a retail study tour of key retail concepts and stores facilitated by local expat Richard Mayne. This was a brilliant start to the week with a stellar make-up of Australian retailers including Ben Kearney from the Australian Lottery & Newsagents Association, Peter C & Renee Reimer from Lorna Jane, Angus McDonald from Barbeques Galore, Ben Cook from New Store, and Brian Man from PwC.

The study tour captured the collaborative efforts shopping centres, Government and retailers are making to create a comprehensive shopping experience in Singapore. The presentation of stores, cleanliness and safe shopping environments stood out in all shopping areas. Concept areas, such as young & fun zones, exemplified how we can evolve some of our current retail spaces in Australia. Funan Singapore was a shopping centre focused on sports & tech, featuring cycle lanes through the centre, a basketball half court, a full gaming floor, and dedicated floors to computing, fashion, and sports retail. Other outstanding retailers included Gentle Monster – eyewear with in-store funky art and installations, and TWG tea shops with outstanding service and staff training. Top-end luxury brands were located in multiple areas around the city, with the Apple Store on the harbour featuring a breathtaking glass dome.

Day one of the conference started with opening remarks from Martine Reardon, Senior Advisor for Retail Insights and Content Creation for the National Retail Federation. There was a large retail exhibition with many retail & tech suppliers such as Big Commerce, Global E, Workjam, Fulfilment Australia, Twilio, New Store, AWS, and Dell, to name a few.

In addition, there was the Ultimate Retail Tech Expo, which was a standout event, as was the ‘NRF Innovation Lab & Startup Zone’, enabling retail executives to engage, connect, and explore the future of retail evolution, from cutting-edge technology to revolutionary store designs.

The standout talks on day one were from Christopher Thomas-Moore, Chief Digital Officer of Domino’s Pizza. “CTM” spoke about meeting consumer needs through tech-driven innovation. While innovation is an important driver of Domino’s success, Chris advised that innovation is a journey – it doesn’t happen overnight.  Data is key to all areas of the business. His eight key tenets were a great reflection on why Domino’s is a market leader in QSR:

  1. Embrace Revolution
  2. Practise Uncommon Honesty
  3. Define your Why
  4. Take Bold Action
  5. Challenge Everything
  6. Get Innovation Ready
  7. Innovate in Advertising
  8. Work in Progress (keep moving forward/fail fast mantra)

AI and its incorporation into retail dominated many of the talks (stay tuned for the fireside chat with John Ball from Google and Rob Godwin on the 4th July).

Speakers highlighted initiatives spearheaded by L’Oréal, LVMH and other leading retailers, demonstrating how digital technology is reshaping the shopping experience. Topics covered included the ‘Evolution of Retail’ in the beauty and luxury industry, how to enhance the customer experience, and importantly, future retail trends and innovations, using AI strategies at the heart of these initiatives.

A standout of the day was from Australia’s own panel of Peter C from Lorna Jane and Peter Radcliffe from RM Williams alongside Philip Dixon (UK) and hosted by Wovens Marcella Larsen. It was great to see iconic Australian brands discussing optimising the omnichannel experience, having a unified view of the customer, and making every touchpoint work to deliver end-to-end excellence in CX.


Day Two Overview

Day two started with a great fireside chat with Nicole Sheffield, Managing Director of Wesfarmers Limited OneDigital and president of the Australian Retailers Association and Paul Zahra, CEO of the Australian Retailers Association. Congrats to Paul for moderating a great chat with Nicole.  As always, Nicole’s depth of knowledge and experience illustrated the journey Wesfarmers is undertaking with brands such as Catch, Priceline, Officeworks, Bunnings, and many more. Integrating these major brands under one loyalty program significantly boosts customer retention.

Nicole suggested that customers who join paid loyalty programs are up to 60% more likely to spend more with the brand after subscribing, compared to before their membership. Furthermore, these members often exhibit a higher retention rate, with companies reporting that paid loyalty program members renew at rates of 70% or higher.

The afternoon began with a fireside chat with Chris Chong, CEO of Retail and Workspace CapitaLand Investment, and Low Ngai Yuen Chief Merchandise and Marketing Officer at AEON Group, entitled “The Great Retail Food Experience: Powering Growth through Transformation and Collaboration”.

The discussion began with key learnings for CapitaLand. Chris spoke about how shopping centres, specifically across Asia, are shifting and evolving from simply ‘provisioning’ to ‘experiential lifestyle hubs’. “Today, you’re heading to the shopping centre to go to the gym, grab coffee, have lunch with friends at a great restaurant. You’re getting your car washed, catching a movie, or attending a medical appointment. We now work with lifestyle architects to develop, and often redevelop older centres into smaller, lifestyle centres.”

The promise of Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI) in retail is as large. Possibly larger than the emergence of the Internet back in the 1990s.

It was also great to see Christopher Connelly from Twilio illustrating the impacts of AI on customer service centres today. The live demonstration showed how interactive the new services can be, with substantial cost savings, and how these time savings in customer experience can benefit both businesses and customers.

The insights shared by Ben Thompson, Digital Change Leader for the Australian mega-brand Endeavour, during his fireside chat with Brian Walker were highly valuable. Ben zeroed in on the cultural aspects of change leadership in a digital transformation program, stating, “Technology enables the transformation; people enable the technology.”

The final day of NRF – and we saved the best till last – featured Jennifer Child, CEO of Australian retailer Oroton and Paul Zahra, CEO of the Australian Retailers Association. Jenny illustrated the legacy and brand values of Oroton through recent history and how they have navigated change and some major hurdles over time. Oroton’s connection to the consumer started in the 1970s, but now they are evolving for the new consumer through design, beautiful store experiences, and bold leadership.

Congratulations to Ryf Quail, Managing Director of Comexposium, for hosting a great first NRF APAC. We encourage all retailers to attend in 2025.

A very valuable and enriching experience for all who attended and see you in 2025.