Five Retail Trends for 2014

Customer Strategy
Investments in mobile and an omnichannel presence, empowering employees and providing them with more information to deliver a personalized shopping experience and more investments in mobile payments will be major retail trends for this year.

January tends to be a quieter month for retailers after the rush of the holidays. Not only are many consumers shopped out, but the receipt of credit card bills can be a rude awakening of holiday overspending.However, retailers are not taking a break during this time. Instead, they are looking at the rest of 2014 and deciding where to make investments to improve their business. A lot of emphasis is being put on improving the overall customer experience, especially in brick-and-mortar locations. In fact, speaking during the NRF 103rd Annual Convention & EXPO, Lynn Dornblaser, Mintel's director for innovation and insight, said consumers are expecting more from their shopping experience. "Stores need to be a venue and not just a shop," she said, adding that "consumers want a social and customizable shopping experience."

During this week's show, I spoke with a number of retail experts about what they're seeing and what they expect retailers to invest in during 2014. They shared the following five trends:

1. Investing in a mobile presence
Smartphones present a unique opportunity for retailers to engage with consumers. "Having a mobile presence is not a choice, but mandatory," stresses Dinesh Bajaj, Infosys' vice president for retail, CPG, and logistics. Organizations should also leverage mobile technology to equip their associates with the needed information to better serve customers. Linda Palanza, chief operating officer at OneView Commerce, notes that especially younger associates who are extremely mobile-savvy will learn new applications quickly and willingly adopt their use. Dave Crist, senior vice president for sales and marketing at Brother Mobile Solutions, notes that some retailers are investing in mobile technology to allow associates to be where consumers are.

2. Converging around an omnichannel experience

While business leaders have been talking about the need to create a seamless omnichannel experience, many organizations are still struggling to turn theory into reality, notes Branden Jenkins, NetSuite's general manager for retail. "Retailers have had issues with addressing omnichannel, but they need to address this challenge," he says. "Stop thinking about channels but a holistic experience," stresses Craig Peasley, head of marketing at Magento. Rick Chavie, hybris' vice president of omnicommerce, agrees, noting that savvy bretailers are working to bridge the online and in-store experience, which is currently siloed. "You need visibility into a single source of truth," he says. Palanza believes that more organizations will merge their channels to enable consumers to shop with ease through a seamless experience, for example allowing them to return a product purchased online at a store without penalty.

3. More empowered associates
As online commerce continues to gain market share, retailers are recognizing the need to turn their brick-and-mortar locations into experience centers which go beyond a simple transaction. Business leaders are recognizing that success depends on empowered associates who aren't there solely to check out customers. Palanza notes that forward-thinking retailers are empowering associates to make a connection with customers. Further, Bajaj says the most savvy companies are investing in technology to equip associates with the information to deliver the same personalized experience that customers are used to receiving online. MomentFeed CEO Robert Blatt notes that once a connection has been created between an associate and customers, frontline employees can be leveraged in marketing messages.

4. Richer product information
Today's customers do a lot of research before deciding to make a purchase. Thus product information needs to go beyond generic details, but really help customers understand why this is the right choice for them. NetSuite's Jenkins believes that the coming year will see retailers make leaps into improving their product information, both online and also in-store by equipping associates with the technology and information to help customers through their buying journey.

5. Embracing mobile payments
While virtual wallets are available, they have not yet become widely adopted. Experts believe that this shift will start happening in 2014, also fueled by consumers' concerns over data breaches involving their credit cards, and invest more in systems that accept mobile payments. Henry Helgeson, CEO at Merchant Warehouse, notes that the biggest barrier to mobile payments has been retailers' reluctance to invest in the technology. However, this is changing, also because retailers have recognized the opportunity to leverage these systems to deliver very targeted offers that can be redeemed through the mobile wallet system.

Finally, with the economy in a better shape, retailers are taking a good look at their brick-and-mortar locations to determine where they can make improvements, notes Christina Van Houten, Infor's VP of market strategy. "We are seeing organizations streamlining their brick-and-mortar presence, using analytics to determine which stores will lead to the best ROI and investing in them," she notes.