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Retailers Investing In Customer Engagement: Report

2/15/2012 01:39:31 PM Eastern
Washington - Retailers in 2012 will focus on a number of customer-centric functions including IT and e-commerce investments, enhancing customer service initiatives, and building on their mobile platforms, a new study shows.

The efforts are designed to build customer engagement, capture wallet share and accelerate sales growth, according to the report by the NRF Foundation and KPMG.

 The study, "Retail Horizons: Benchmarks for 2011, Forecasts for 2012," is based on a survey of 247 retail executives representing 135 North American companies ranging from department and specialty stores to supermarkets, restaurants and online merchants.

"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 Matthew Shay, president/CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF), an industry trade group. "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 percent of companies rank customer satisfaction as the top strategic initiative for 2012 and, similarly, 82 percent said customer service strategies will be their top priority in the coming year, up from 75 percent last year.

For the first time in the survey's 10-year history, retailers' websites or online channels eclipsed physical stores as the top channel for marketers (81 percent for brick-and-mortar vs. 86 percent online). As such, retail executives said 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 percent in 2011, and 38 percent will have a greater focus on increasing m-commerce sales over the next year, up from 29 percent in 2011.

Additionally, more than half (53 percent) of those surveyed said 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 said enhancing handheld technologies, such as mobile point-of-sale (POS), will be a core focus over the next 18 months. While 17 percent already use mobile POS technologies in their store, an additional 33 percent 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 percent of companies are actively developing widgets, gadgets or advanced links that can be incorporated with their social-media pages, and another 41 percent are planning to develop these items over the next 18 months.

Among the study's other findings:

  •   Thirty-three percent reported increases of greater than 5 percent in same-store sales in 2011, up from 21 percent in 2010. Additionally, 63 percent reported gross margins greater than 40 percent in 2011, up from 40 percent in 2010.

  • After years of practicing cost containment, this year more than half (52 percent) of respondents plan to increase their IT budgets.

  •  Ninety-one percent of respondents said they will focus on leadership assessment, development, and succession, up from 83 percent in 2011. Additionally, 52 percent will increase associate training, up from 39 percent last year.

  • As the number of multichannel shoppers continues to grow, so will retailers' focus on price optimization, with more than one-third (35 percent) of respondents planning to focus on solidifying their price optimization technologies over the next 18 months.

  • Nearly six in 10 (59 percent) said new customer acquisition is their top strategic priority for 2012, up from 55 percent in 2011.
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