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Retail’s Industry Makeover

“Our industry has a perception problem,” announced National Retail Federation (NRF) President and CEO Matthew Shay at the Global Retailing Conference in Tucson, AZ today.  In a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives, Shay praised the industry’s efforts to provide quality employment, empowered communities, and technological innovations.

It’s true that retail has struggled with a bad reputation for some time.  Like millions of teenage Americans, I got my first job in retail wrapping Christmas presents at a big box electronics store.  It wasn’t a stepping stone to a grand career, but I wasn’t under any delusions it ever would be (meanwhile, I fully note the irony that I am gainfully employed as a retail industry observer).  What this job did provide me with was my first exposure to customers, one of the single most important components of our modern economy.


NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay wants to change the perception of retail.

According to NRF, retail supports one in four jobs in the U.S economy and employs over half of all teenagers in the workforce.  A new survey published by the NRF cites that 25.3 percent of 18-24 year olds actively seek employers with compatible values, while 1 in 5 job seekers value employers who give back to the community.  These values resonate with millennials, a demographic known for its preference to collaborate, desire for meaningful work, and overwhelming respect for authenticity, according to T. Scott Gross, author of Invisible: How Millenials are Changing the Way we Sell

“Millennials now make up the largest portion of active workers,” noted Michael Schulze, SAP Senior Vice-President and General Manager for Retail, in a Forbes blog post highlighting the focus placed on millennial customers, employees, and future leaders by the American Apparel and Footwear Association at an annual executive summit earlier this year. “My generation has a lot of experience to impart,” wrote Schulze, “[but] we have to first earn the right to be heard by being quick to listen and slow to speak.”

“Retail offers what young adults value in a career, yet too few are buying into the opportunities that exist,” said Shay. “We want retail to be the first place young adults shop for a career.”

Retailers hire more finance employees than Wall Street and more engineers than Silicon Valley.

To sensitize young Americans to quality employment opportunities in his industry, Shay announced the launch of NRF’s “This is Retail” campaign.  Like any good campaign directed at millennials, it aims to crowdsource content by inviting others to “tell the real story of retail.”  According to the campaign’s website, retailers hire more finance employees than Wall Street and more engineers than Silicon Valley.  At the same time, it raises awareness of the role retailers play in local and global communities through workplace volunteer initiatives, corporate social responsibility programs, and international disaster relief. 

Finally, the campaign underscores the incredibly innovative nature of retail.  As an SAP employee responsible for monitoring and communicating how technology is helping the world run better and improve people’s lives, it’s hard not to be biased.  Whether it’s online shopping, mobile wallets, same-day delivery, virtual changing rooms, or personalized marketing, the sky is the limit when it comes to retail technological innovation.  Now that the powerhouse in-memory SAP HANA platform is on the scene, we’ve only just witnessed the tip of the iceberg.


Louis Bridgman is a professional communicator and retail industry

observer.  For the past six years, he has contributed to SAP retail

solutions by writing everything from software documentation and

training material to marketing collateral.

Follow @LouisBridgman

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  • I enjoyed your blog Louis.  Matt Shay got a very warm reception at the Global Retailing Conference today!  He and the NRF are very strong proponents of the retail industry and ensuring its future relevance in and contribution to people's lives.  Shay wants retailers to lead in technology innovations!!!! 

    by the way, I had my start at Sears & Roebuck working in their now defunct Catalog Sales Department throughout college. 

  • Great blog as always Louis. My first retail job was at 17- stocking shelves in a pharmacy. Then came the Gap, Toys R US, a Mens Fashion retailer... simpler times! But a great training ground on working with customers as you mention.