Ecommerce demand is higher than ever, retailers are adding a charitable initiative to their brand, subscription services haven’t faded and the physical store is ever-changing.

The National Retail Federation 2019 conference lives up to its name—The Big Show. With nearly 40,000 attendees all flowing through one conference center in New York City, it is indeed a very big show.

Here are four themes that I gleaned from this year’s January 2019 show.

Ecommerce demand is hotter than ever

Just weeks after the 2018 holiday season wrapped, many e-retailers arrived at the show in good moods after a lucrative holiday season.

In fact, online demand was a little too good for two e-retailers—bedding retailer Coyuchi and plus-size apparel retailer Ashley Stuart Inc., No. 296 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 500.

Coyuchi CEO Eileen Mockus told Internet Retailer that it had “fulfillment hiccups” in Q4 based on high demand. This is a good problem to have, she notes, and fixable in the long term.

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Similarly, Julie Daly, vice president of digital commerce at Ashley Stewart, says that its third-party logistics provider couldn’t keep up with its Cyber 5 demand, and it took 10 days for online orders to get out the door. The retailer had to change its customer service phone prompts and emailed all of its customers letting them know of the delay. The retailer is looking for a new 3PL that can better handle its demand during peak, she says.

Charitable arms and social initiatives are in vogue 

Many retailers discussed ways in which they are using their brand to advocate for a social or charitable mission. Outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia (No. 192), for example, talked about how it changed its mission statement to further clarify its position on improving the environment.

More retailers are now becoming “B Corporations” or businesses that are both purpose- and profit-driven. Shoe retailer Toms Shoes LLC (No. 311), which has always matched every shoe purchase with a donated pair of shoes, has continually expanded its social initiative to now include donating eyewear, donating safe water kits, donating funds to provide training for skilled birth attendants and distributing birth kits for safe baby delivery. Most recently, it is looking into donating funds to organizations working to end gun violence.

The changing, but very alive, store

It’s no secret that the National Retail Federation emphasizes, and almost protects, the notion of a physical store. It works hard to combat headlines of “ecommerce is killing stores” or “stores are dead” or “retail apocalypse” or the negative retail store news du jour.

Instead of NRF’s most recent tone of “digital and physical are blending,” the 2019 show seemed to revert back to its old mantra of “stores are king.” Board members pointed to once pure-play retailers opening pop-up shops or a handful of stores as proof that stores are here to stay.

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The show floor was filled with ways that retailers could bring more shoppers into physical stores, such as large digital advertisements in store windows that can change based on the age and gender of a consumer walking by it or—even more outlandish—augmented reality butterflies that shoppers chase to receive in-store coupons.

On the main stage, Macy’s Inc. (No. 6) touted three store-based initiatives it has recently embarked upon, including a pop-up showroom for technical products, its acquisition of experimental store Story and its virtual reality pop-ups in its furniture section. Grocer Kroger Co. (No. 86) also discussed how its digital shelf signage and its mobile scan-and-go shopping initiatives are bringing its stores into the modern day.

Stores are changing and they are here to stay. We got the message, NRF.

Subscriptions have not faded

A few years ago, subscription services were booming in nearly every category from meal kits to beauty boxes to dog treats. While subscription-only players have come and gone, many established retailers are still drawn to the attractive idea of recurring revenue and setting up some type of subscription service.

Instead the subscription fad waning, I was surprised at NRF to hear a number of retailers still embracing the subscription revival and adding this component to their business. Coffee retailer Illy, for example, discussed with Internet Retailer why a coffee subscription makes sense, as it is a daily consumable product, and Coyuchi discussed its bed sheet and towel subscription service that it is expanding.

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