2012 : Retailers all about Customer Interaction

In an effort to build customer engagement, capture wallet share and accelerate sales growth, retailers in 2012 will focus on a number of customer-centric functions, including IT and ecommerce investments, enhancing customer service initiatives and, building on their mobile platforms. Those findings are from a new report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) Foundation by KPMG.

Retail Horizons: Benchmarks for 2011, Forecasts for 2012,” surveyed 247 retail executives from various sectors, outlines retailers’ top strategic initiatives for 2012 including merchandising, ecommerce, store and field operations, supply chain and human capital, among others.

“Retailers are poised to enter 2012 with a renewed focus on building up and building out many of their most important operations, hoping to establish a new sense of brand loyalty with all of their customers,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Though customers are always a company’s top priority, customer satisfaction will get a huge facelift this year. From increasing their brand visibility through cross-channel initiatives to providing unique, personalized shopping experiences through every channel, retailers have indicated 2012 is all about the customer.”

According to the survey, nearly 67% of companies rank customer satisfaction as the top strategic initiative for 2012 and, similarly, 82% say customer service strategies will be their top priority in the coming year, up from 75% last year.

For the first time in the survey’s ten-year history, retailers’ websites or online channels eclipsed physical stores as the top channel for marketers (81% for brick-and-mortar vs. 86% online). As such, retail executives say they will invest in programs that directly resonate with today’s shopper. According to the survey, 85 will emphasize  increasing online sales, up from 83% in 2011, and 38% will have a greater focus on increasing mCommerce sales over the next year, up from 29% in 2011. Additionally, more than half (53%) of those surveyed say they will specifically focus on web personalization engines in the coming months, which includes such enhancements as location-based services and tracking methods unique to shopping habits.
To better serve mobile-savvy shoppers in their stores, retailers also stated enhancing handheld technologies, such as mobile point-of-sale, will be a core focus over the next 18 months. While 17% already use mobile POS technologies in their store, an additional 33% indicate they plan further POS investments during that timeframe.

“Compared to the past few years, retailers have turned their attention to growth acceleration, with an emphasis on improved customer engagement strategies and tactics,” said Mark Larson, KPMG’s global head of retail. “Harnessing the vast amounts of customer data they have at their disposal to create unique consumer interactions will be critical, especially as digital sales grow. Clearly the retailers who master the one-to-one customer approach, and who also leverage the full potential of e-and-mobile commerce platforms, will be in a much stronger position to gain wallet share.”

Aiming to grow that customer interaction, 45% of companies are actively developing widgets, gadgets or advanced links that can be incorporated with their social media pages, and another 41% are planning to develop these items over the next 18 months.

Other KPMG/NRF survey findings:
• Thirty-three% reported increases of greater than 5% in same store sales in 2011, up from 21% in 2010. Additionally, 63% reported gross margins greater than 40% in 2011, up from 40% in 2010
• After years of practicing cost containment, this year more than half (52%) of respondents plan to increase their IT budgets
• Nine in 10 (91%) respondents said they will focus on leadership assessment, development and succession, up from 83% in 2011. Additionally, 52% will increase associate training, up from 39% last year
• As the number of multichannel shoppers continues to grow, so will retailers’ focus on price optimization – more than one-third (35%) of respondents will focus on solidifying their price optimization technologies over the next 18 months
• Nearly six in 10 (59%) say new customer acquisition is their top strategic priority for 2012, up from 55% in 2011

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