Retail innovators take center stage at this year's BIG Show

It's going to be…well, big. NRF's Annual Convention & Expo in its 104th year proves why it has earned the nickname "Retail's BIG Show." More than 30,000 members of the retail industry will be on-site at New York's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, Jan. 11-14, to set the tone for the new year, discussing topics ranging from marketing and merchandising to technology and digital retailing.

There will be breakout sessions, networking opportunities and industry players on display in the Expo Hall. The educational and networking opportunities will continue Wednesday, which wraps up with Retail's BIG Fast Track Program, featuring 20-minute presentations by individuals who have embraced the entrepreneurial attitude for cultivating the future of retail.

"The BIG Show provides amazing content, the opportunity to network with industry professionals, see customers you haven't seen for a while, meet new customers who can turn out to be your biggest customer in the future, as well as see the newest, most crucial technology and products," described Susan Newman, senior VP of conferences and marketing for the National Retail Federation.

Although the show spans many topics that concern the retail industry, Newman said that one theme that particularly stands out in 2015 is the decreasing importance of selling channels in the eye of the consumer.

"Whether it is brick-and-mortar, online, catalog, social or mobile, retailers are now making large investments in weaving together the best of physical and digital retailing to provide the consumer what she wants when and where she wants it," said Newman. "This year's keynote speakers from GameStop, JCPenney and Levi's will all be discussing how they have infused digital into their brick-and-mortar locations to compete on an immersive 'experience' over the convenience of autonomous online shopping."

Other topics of discussion slated for this year include innovation and forward thinking. The topic will be addressed at Wednesday's opening keynote with Fast Company's Editor-in-Chief Robert Safian. In addition, the show will host its first retail start-up competition.

Big data and omnichannel initiatives (and glitches) are hot topics this year as retailers continue to seek out ways to better know and connect with shoppers, wherever they are.

Security and fraud were top of mind in 2014, and a year after the Target data breach compromised the credit card data of 40 million shoppers and the personal information of 70 million more, show attendees can expect the issue to be further explored in keynotes and breakout sessions. But as the number of merchants reporting security breaches grows, one wonders if solutions will also be on display.

Although all of the speakers and sessions have something to offer, Newman said there are a few keynotes that just might surprise attendees. For example, noted scientist, venture capitalist and futurist Juan Enriquez will surely turn some heads when he illustrates how advancements in 3D printing, robotics and life sciences will change who makes products, where they are made and what products are available.

"These changes will dramatically alter the existing base of dominant players in many industries including manufacturers and retailers," said Newman. "He's [Enriquez] both thought-provoking and entertaining, which is a great combination to have on the big stage."