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2012 will be all about the customer

BY Allison Cerra

WASHINGTON — Retailers are set to build customer engagement by investing in information technology and e-commerce, as well as enhancing customer service initiatives and building on mobile platforms, a new report from the National Retail Federation and KPMG found.

According to "Retail Horizons: Benchmarks for 2011, Forecasts for 2012," which surveyed 247 retail executives, found that many retailers are taking on customer-centric initiatives. For instance, nearly 67% of companies rank customer satisfaction as the top strategic initiative for 2012 and, similarly, 82% said customer service strategies will be their top priority in the coming year, up from 75% last year.

NRF and KPMG noted that this year marked the first time websites/online channels "eclipsed physical stores as the top channel for marketers" (81% for brick-and-mortar stores versus 86% online). In line with this, 85% of those surveyed said they will emphasize increasing online sales (up from 83% in 2011), while 38% would focus on boosting m-commerce sales over the next year, compared with 29% last year. What’s more, 53% of those surveyed said they will specifically focus on Web personalization engines, including location-based services and tracking methods unique to shopping habits. And as 17% already use mobile point-of-sale technologies in their store, an additional 33% indicated they plan further POS investments during that over the next 18 months.

When it comes to social media, which increasingly has become more important for retailers, 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.

“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,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. “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.”

Click here for the full report.

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Mega Bloks expands Halo Universe line

BY Allison Cerra

MONTREAL and NEW YORK — Mega Brands has introduced a new Mega Bloks line for boys.

The Mega Bloks Halo Universe "Metal Series" collector’s line features small scale replica figurines and vehicles inspired by the Mega Bloks Halo construction line, and is designed for boys ages 8 years and older.

"This construction line is a powerful expression of the Halo Universe which brings to life the wealth of vehicles, characters and locations with equal appeal to both collectors and kids," Mega Brands chief innovation officer Vic Bertrand said. "The authenticity of the Metal Series line combines the engaging content of the world’s best-selling video game franchise with Mega Bloks Halo’s endless possibilities of collectability and display."

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Little Tikes introduces indoor, outdoor building sets

BY Allison Cerra

NEW YORK — Little Tikes has introduced TikeStix, a line of indoor and outdoor building sets for kids.

The company said the line is for children ages 4 years and older and includes 30 to 50 sturdy interlocking pieces that fit little hands, fabric and clips.

The following Little Tikes TikeStix products now are on store shelves nationwide: TikeStix Playhouse: 50 pieces ($49.99); TikeStix Clubhouse: 50 pieces ($49.99); TikeStix Rocket: 30 pieces ($29.99); TikeStix Doghouse: 30 pieces ($29.99).

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