Further, 82% of survey respondents cited customer service strategies as their top priority this year – up from 75% last year.
Interestingly, for the first time in the survey’s 10-year history, merchants’ websites or online channels (86%) outpaced physical stores (81%) as the top channel for marketers.
As a result, 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% last year; and 38% will focus on increasing mobile commerce sales over the next year, up from 29% last year.
More than half (53%) of the companies surveyed say they will focus on web personalization engines in the coming months, including such enhancements as location-based services and tracking methods unique to shopping habits.
The study titled, “Retail Horizons: Benchmarks for 2011, Forecasts for 2012,” surveyed 247 retail executives from various sectors, and the top strategic initiatives for 2012 include merchandising, ecommerce, store and field operations, and supply chain.
“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/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.”
To better serve mobile shoppers in their stores, merchants will look to upgrade their handheld technologies, such as mobile point-of-sale, the study says. While 17% already use mobile POS technologies in their stores, an additional 33% say they plan more POS investments during the next 18 months.
Other survey findings include:
• One third of respondents reported increases of more than 5% in same-store sales in 2011, up from 21% in 2010. Also, 63% reported gross margins greater than 40% in 2011, up from 40% in 2010.
• After years of practicing cost containment, this year more than half (52%) of respondents plan to increase their IT budgets
• Nine of 10 respondents said they will focus on leadership assessment, development and succession, up from 83% in 2011. Additionally, 52% will increase associate training, up from 39% last year
• As the number of multichannel shoppers continues to grow, so will retailers’ focus on price optimization – more than one-third (35%) of respondents will focus on solidifying their price optimization technologies over the next 18 months.