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Retailers invest in customer engagement

WASHINGTON — Retailers in 2012 will invest heavily in IT, e-commerce, customer service and mobile platforms in order to build customer engagement, a new report from the National Retail Federation Foundation and KPMG found. The report, titled, 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.

A major shift found by the report was that, 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 m-commerce 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.

Social media is also becoming more important for retailers, with 45% of companies are actively developing widgets, gadgets or advanced links that can be incorporated with their social media pages, and another 41% planning to develop these items over the next 18 months.

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