The Retail Industry Leaders Association released a list of top public policy priorities for 2018 ahead of President Donald Trump's State of the Union address tonight, according to a press release emailed to Retail Dive.
This year, the trade association said it is focused on four broad topics: ensuring competition throughout the industry; empowering consumers and driving innovation; promoting employee flexibility and mobility; and securing and growing the global value chain.
Among other things, RILA also aims to help members navigate tax reform implementation and push for sales tax parity between brick-and-mortar and e-commerce businesses, an issue that is currently under the review of the Supreme Court.
RILA is starting off the year on a big win — the first tax reform in more than 30 years, which notably chisels down the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. But the trade group's work is far from over — now many retailers will be looking for guidance on how to best use those tax reductions.
As 2017 fourth quarter reports trickle in, some retailers have already decided where those funds will go. Walmart, for instance, has said it will raise the hourly minimum wage for store associates to $11 and give employees that have been with the company for 20 years a $1,000 bonus. The Home Depot also announced it will hand out one-time bonuses of up to $1,000 for hourly stores associates.
While many are expected to invest in employees, how exactly retailers direct those funds depends on the company's growth strategy, Scott Ziemer, managing partner in BDO's Tax office and the former director of tax for two multibillion-dollar retailers, told Retail Dive.
"Some will go to employees, some will bake this into pricing to be more competitive, get more people in the door. Some people will use this for buybacks and increased dividends. It's going to be on the company and what their growth strategy is," he said. "[T]he bigger winners are going to be companies that are growth oriented, companies that are profitable, because now they have better cash flow. Those disadvantaged are retailers owned by private equity groups with a lot of debt, because of interest expense limitations."
Taxes aside — It comes as little surprise that driving innovation is also high on RILA's priority list. Just about a year ago, the trade association launched the (R)Tech Center for Innovation, an initiative that aims to bridge the gap between retailers and startups as well as provide guidance for how retailers can drive tech innovation. Earlier this month, RILA named its first three innovation award winners: IamBot, Multifold and Persado. All of these companies sit at the intersection of technology and retail. Spurring innovation and digital experiences in the industry is also listed as one of the biggest priorities for Target CEO Brian Cornell as he assumes his new role as chairman of RILA.
Employees will also be central to RILA's public policy strategy for the year, including the issue of last-minute scheduling and wage increases. Trade will also continue to be a hot topic, especially when it comes to lobbying against withdrawal from NAFTA or other free trade agreements or programs that impact U.S. jobs and retail prices.