Backword: What do you think the best opportunities will be in 2012?

NEIL SEXTON, PRESIDENT, NORTHERN SAFETY

“The Post Office is offering incentives like never before, and freight rates can be negotiated. Acquisitive, strong, cash rich companies have a great chance to “buy right” and grow this way. In some markets, labor, especially for customer-facing personnel, is abundant and relatively inexpensive. Private labeling and direct importing/manufacturing will continue to create margin and market differentiation.

Leadership must be developed to enable multichannel companies to flourish. Succession plans for the many closely held companies are often missing — this again benefits the acquisitive multichannel player. Winning on the ecommerce element of a multichannel approach is critical. Staffing, outsourcing, off-shoring — all become critical skill sets for multichannel companies to develop and embrace.”

BRIAN TILZER, VP, ECOMMERCE & BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, STAPLES

“An opportunity that stands out is the ability to make shopping fundamentally easier for customers by empowering them with more information to research, shop and buy. This means richer product information, more customer reviews and allowing customers to browse and purchase whenever and wherever they want, via mobile apps and mobile websites. Mobile offerings can bring the online experience into a store setting or bring the store on the road with you, and I think you’ll see continued innovation in that area. Staples is working on its next generation mobile app, to be released soon, in an effort to make multichannel shopping easier for our customers.

Another opportunity lies in making your channels more customer-centric and personalized. Online this means features like proactive chat, social sharing and suggested search, features we’ve recently implemented or are working on for Staples.com. For mobile, this means letting customers create smart lists of products they recently purchased from you, or storing their product info on your app. In store, this means personalized services, like with our Easy Tech Associates or Copy & Print Professionals, who develop relationships with customers to help them make informed decisions and provide solutions for their small businesses.”

LARRY DAVIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF MARKETING, ROSS-SIMONS

“Ross-Simons is fully invested in the multichannel experience. We are moving full-steam ahead with new consumer-facing technology and investing in mobile, tablets and e-catalogs. To fully integrate the experience, our stores are deploying the iPad for retail interactions with customers. Additionally, we have invested significant infrastructure dollars to show products on our website that we intend to fulfill from our retail locations. We don’t have one central warehouse now; rather we have 15 warehouses in our stores up and down the East Coast.

One of our biggest opportunities is to re-create the full browsing experience of a catalog on the Internet, and we have exciting developments on this front for 2012. In fact, we think that the social platforms can help make the web experience more engaging and as fun as browsing a catalog.”

CAM BALZER, CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, THREADLESS.COM

“Mobile is reaching the point where it’s non-optional. It’s becoming critical on traffic. Our mobile strategy continues to grow. In the social space, the challenge is continuing to keep up with all the new channels and keep up the effort across that landscape. Facebook will still be dominant next year, but new players are also possible.

Devising a CRM strategy that spans multiple channels will be a challenge. We’re looking at better ways to tie the whole experience together. There are nice tools starting to emerge that could be meaningful.

International continues to be a huge opportunity for us. It’s now more than 50% of our business. We’ve grown through word-of-mouth and social channels. But economic instability may have an impact on international growth.”

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