December 31st, 2012 by Kelly Liyakasa

Retail promises to be one of the most actively evolving spaces in the new year. Reason being, it’s an industry that has a dual effect on B2B players (think ecommerce platform companies, suppliers, and distributors) and of course, the consumer.

Some of the recurring themes in retail this year were the usual suspects – social and mobile – but in the year ahead and beyond, you will really start to see these concepts take shape and increasingly converge for sales, marketing, and customer service purposes. How ever you would label Amazon – that “big bad online wolf” or one of the business “brilliants” – you’ll continue to see their data-centric strategies molding how people buy, search, compare, etc. Here are a few trends to watch, keeping in mind that this is by no means a complete list:

Mobility, Meet Loyalty: 2013 will be the year when the mobile device really becomes the genesis for driving in-store loyalty. Although the buzzword “showrooming” did not come to a rest in 2012, retailers began to take advantage of the fact that the consumer always has their smartphone on them instead of shying away from the reality that people are price-comparing for better deals online. Brick and mortar retailers like Target and Best Buy announced that for this holiday season, they would match the prices of Internet powerhouse Amazon and the like. Discount big box store Walmart introduced a mobile app that not only provided social hooks and early-access discounts but an “in-store mode” setting that pushes location-specific information to shoppers, such as interactive maps and deals relevant to the store they’re in. “If you can find the right lever to encourage a purchase in-store rather than through a competitor, that’s going to allow you to keep a sale and build a relationship with a customer that’s sustainable and endurable,” comments Rick Ferguson, vice president of knowledge development at global loyalty management company Aimia. Expect mobility and loyalty to become even closer.

Walmart Mobile App for iPhone

Walmart Mobile App for iPhone

More Ways to Define “Customer Satisfaction”: Because true customer satisfaction is not a result of price alone, more retailers will make a concerted effort to differentiate the in-store experience and will use mobile technologies as a way to do so. Take Alex and Ani, for instance, an eco-friendly accessories and lifestyle store that turned to professional services firm Mobiquity to improve its service and response times through mobile point of sale. Customers can now swipe their credit cards, scan barcodes, and receive a print or emailed copy of their receipt at the time of purchase. Although Alex and Ani’s mobile strategy is designed for utility, retailers that use mobile apps wisely can contribute to a stronger customer experience, which improves satisfaction. According to Ferguson, undoubtedly, there are benefits for the company as well. “There’s additional information that you’re capturing about that customer – you’re understanding what type of behavior they have in-store, how they’re using their mobile app, what types of products they’re looking at – and that’s all providing you with data that could give you valuable insight,” he says. Expect deeper analysis of customer data, which will directly impact sales and marketing strategies.

A Coming Commerce Revolution: In the New Year, retail leaders will continue to invest in data analytics, reinvigorate rewards and loyalty programs, and work toward providing a true, multichannel experience, Ferguson observes. These investments foretell a recent Forrester Research finding that 52 percent of companies plan to change or enhance their commerce technology platform within two years, to account for commerce needs beyond standard ecommerce sales, such as order and Web content management as more and more retailers not only offer online stores, but online communities like Modcloth or educational offshoots like lululemon. The online buying experience even LOOKS a whole lot different than it did four years ago. In reference to what Constellation Research Group principal analyst and CEO Ray Wang terms “Matrix Commerce,” he writes, “We are seeing new solutions emerge. More importantly, verticalization is important. Take the software industry –  we are seeing players like Avangate emerge because they are verticalized to help software and IP publishers.  This is different from a Digital River or Demandware in the market place, which provide horizontal platforms. In the wholesale distribution side of the world, you see the Epicor, and IBS in the market.” In other words, commerce as we know it is about to do an about-face, and it starts with reimagining supply and demand, as well as buyer needs.

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