Editor’s Note: The New Retail Reality

THE NEWS THAT HOLIDAY RETAIL SALES had increased about 6% over 2009 is a sign that the economy is, if not rapidly rebounding, at least moving in the right direction. Once we do finally pull out of the recession, does that mean merchants can expect business to return to the way it was in 2007?

No chance. For one thing, we’ll never be able to dial back catalog postage to where it was before the great rate hike four years ago. That’s just not happening.

Also, consumers aren’t likely to return to their free-spending ways anytime soon — if ever. The severity of the downturn taught people to save more and use credit cards less — now it’s all about downsizing and getting rid of stuff rather than acquiring goods.

So retailers in general will have to work harder for every sale. The aggressive promotions and email campaigns that many have relied on to survive the recession have become part of doing business.

Then there’s technology, the explosion of user-generated content and social media, and the emergence of mobile as a viable channel. There are a lot more opportunities to interact with customers, which can be good or bad, depending on how you manage all your touchpoints.

Consumer expectations are different, too. Ratings and reviews weren’t widely used five years ago; now many shoppers won’t consider buying a product without consulting reviews. If your site doesn’t offer them, users will find one that does.

The way people shop has changed radically in a few short years, and the way merchants sell to them has to reflect the new reality. A few things to consider in managing your multichannel business this year:

Do you know your website’s word connect? See the website critique starting on page 16 for what this critical metric is.

What does your sales-source pie look like? See “Getting your head around matchbacks” on page 32 for more.

Is your operation prepared with a BC/DR plan? (That’s business continuity/disaster recovery to you — see “Develop a master disaster plan” on page 40 for how to create one.)

There’s much more in this issue to help you navigate today’s multichannel retail waters, like the SEO masters’ secret to link building (page 12), designing catalog covers that will get opened (page 23), presenting a strong unified brand across all channels (page 28) and lessons learned from the holiday (page 54).

No question, it’s rough out there. We understand that you have a lot on your plate, and we’re here to help. Welcome to 2011.

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