Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
February, 14th 2013
13:06
 

Jill Puleri, Global Retail Leader, IBM

By Jill Puleri
 
The 2012 holiday shopping season could arguably be considered the greatest digital shopping period in history.
 
According to the latest IBM Retail Online Index that captured shopping data from the fourth quarter of 2012, online sales increased 15 percent over the same period last year and were triple the sales growth of traditional retail stores. Retailers who found a way to seamlessly bridge the gap between the online and in-store buying experience were the real winners this holiday season.
 

Mobile shopping also played a large role this past holiday as consumers reached for their smartphones and their tablets to shop. Overall sales from mobile devices increased 43 percent over 2011 and mobile site traffic increased close to 69 percent over the same period. It’s clear that more and more consumers are engaging in “couch commerce,” buying clothes, home goods, and other items from the comfort of their own couch. As consumers shop with the swipe of a finger, the iPad continues to be the device of choice, making up 35 percent of all mobile traffic – more than any other device.

It may be a surprise, but of all the retail segments this holiday season, department stores shined the brightest. Some of their strategies were creative; placing QR codes (quick response bar codes) on their in-store displays, giving customers the ability to compare prices through mobile applications, and placing technology in the hands of their associates to ‘save the sale.’ Their strategy paid off, with department stores seeing a 22 percent increase in overall sales over Q4 2011. What is most impressive is the increase in site traffic and site sales from mobile devices.  Mobile sales from department store websites increased 44 percent, while mobile traffic increased close to 60 percent over the same period in 2011.

This latest index shows clearly that the shopping experience has evolved. No longer can we look at shopping in silos, or in terms of in-store versus online. Instead, we have to consider the convergence of these channels, as the digital consumer demands a truly digital experience. The Q4 IBM Retail Online Index confirms a shift in buying behavior ultimately presenting challenges for both chief marketing officers and their IT counterparts. In order to meet the needs of today’s empowered consumer, both marketing and IT need to come together armed with consumer data in order to allow a more personalized interaction. Consumers expect to be able to shop across channels and to receive offers that are relevant and personalized – much like their experience today with online-only retailers.  

The question now is: where to start? Savvy retailers today are using technology to help improve the customer experience and fix problems in real-time, while customers shop on their sites. They’re also continually adjusting pricing and promotions through the cloud as dictated by customer demand. In addition to all of this, many are using digital analytics to find their best customers, see what they’re buying, and then automating ‘intelligent’ marketing campaigns mapped directly to those buyers’ preferences.

For retailers to survive and thrive in this new era of mobile and the connected consumer, they must be able to meet customers’ rising expectations across all channels and be able to interact in the moment on the customer’s terms, not their own.

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