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On day two of NRF's Big Show, Walmart and Walgreens discussed their growing retail media networks and analysts weighed in on the state of the economy.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) gave retailers, technology companies, and others in the industry a second day of panels on Monday, covering the most important topics in the sector today. Day two of NRF’s Big Show included dozens of panels on marketing, technology, diversity and the state of the economy. 

Digital Commerce 360 was on the floor at the Javits Center in New York City to follow these and other important ecommerce topics, as well as the retail leaders discussing them.

Here’s what you need to know from NRF day two:

Magic Johnson started the day

Earvin “Magic” Johnson kicked off the day in conversation with Walmart U.S. CEO John Furner. Johnson is chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Industries. He discussed the applications of lessons he learned as a star basketball player to his more recent work as an entrepreneur.

Johnson referred to the date as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He credited Dr. King’s work in paving the way for him to be at NRF today and at the helm of his business.


The rise of retail media networks

Retailers are looking for options as they seek to leverage resources for additional revenue. Retail media networks have emerged as one such area of focus. Retail media networks at large will pursue some version of Amazon’s flywheel with media, advertisements and commerce, said Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst of retail and ecommerce at Insider Intelligence.

The greatest opportunity for retail media networks is in stores, he said. In-store attribution of sales to those ads is lacking, but that’s a place retailers can improve.

“Physical retail is the new TV” for advertisers in terms of scale, brand safety and reaching the right audience, Lipsman said. 


Walmart has a wider reach than the largest TV network, said Ryan Mayward, senior vice president of retail media sales at Walmart Connect. He explained that retailers are increasingly allocating their marketing budgets to in-store uses. Walmart is experimenting with new ways to advertise in stores, including on TV screens in the electronics section, on screens in the deli and bakery sections, and on self-checkout screens. 

Jonathan Lustig, head of revenue at Walgreens Advertising Group, echoed the point. With retail media networks, “every Walgreens store becomes a distribution center,” he said. 

Walmart ranks No. 2 in the 2023 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000. The Top 1000 is a ranking of North America’s leading retailers by online sales. Walgreens ranks No. 19.

Expectations for 2024

The state of the economy in 2024 was a consistent topic of conversation, too. Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the NRF, described his opinion as “guarded optimism” on the economy this year. While there might be a shift down in growth from last year, there won’t be negative growth in 2024, he expects. However, a single negative quarter is possible, in his view.


Economists and analysts present said they were optimistic about consumer spending and consumer sentiment. Consumers remained resilient in the face of what could have been significant headwinds last year, said Brian Nagel, senior research analyst at Oppenheimer and Company. That resulted in a better-than-expected holiday season, he said. Kleinhenz also expects consumer spending through 2024 will continue to be supported by job growth.

Nevertheless, retailers and analysts are keeping potential threats in mind. The economy is definitely not in the clear, Nagel said. Earlier in the day, Furner mentioned inflation, interest rates, geopolitical strife, and crime as issues that keep retailers worrying. 

Steve Liesman, CNBC senior economics reporter, told NRF attendees that the economy is most likely going to be okay and not face a recession in the near term. He believes the U.S. and global economies are still correcting post-COVID.

Here’s what you missed from NRF Day 1.


See the other NRF stories Digital Commerce 360 is following here. 

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