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1/11/2010
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Technology Changing Consumer, Retailer Habits

Consumers are engaging mobile apps and social networking to facilitate online purchases and influence merchants, study finds.

For more on business intelligence, see Intelligent Enterprise.

Between the state of the economy and the rise of technology, consumers are embracing the internet, mobile phones and other technologies more than ever to find deals and change their shopping experience. To meet the expectations of these demanding customers, retailers must respond with more personalized promotions and offers.

These are the key findings of a new report being released today by IBM at this week's NRF (National Retail Federation) Annual Convention & Expo 2010 in New York. Based on interviews with 32,000 consumers in six countries, the study found that tech-savvy shopping is no longer a niche phenomenon.

"In every market, every age group and every retail segment we studied, from groceries to home merchandise to specialty clothing, we discovered pervasive use of technology among consumers," says Jill Puleri, IBM's global retail industry leader.

To the surprise of some, the use of technology was even more pronounced in the high-growth markets of India, China and Brazil than in the established markets of the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

"The emerging world actually has a higher percentage of respondents who use two or more technologies to shop," Puleri says. The Internet and mobile phones were the top two choices, respectively, trailed by in-store kiosks and the nascent technology of interactive television shopping.

Just how do consumers want to use these technologies? The study revealed that

* 79 percent want to use Web sites to access and print coupons * 75 percent want to use mobile phones to find out where the nearest store is located * 66 percent want to see what goods are in stock before going into the store.

What's more, 78 percent of consumers say they are willing to "co-create or collaborate with retailers" by offering feedback on product design, product selection and store layouts. Retailers should take advantage by providing social networking tools or monitoring social networking sites, Puleri says.

"LL Bean gathers consumer feedback through its Web site, and product designers review the suggestions before they create new lines," she says.

To extract intelligence from large volumes of comments, such as e-mail surveys or comments on blogs or social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, retailers and product manufacturers are increasingly turning to voice-of-the-customer analytics. These emerging business intelligence applications can quickly comb through documents, surveys or Web-based comments and look for spikes in negative words or positive words associated with particular brands, products or services.

"Whether consumers are texting, Tweeting, blogging, or giving you feedback directly on your own site, tools are available to help retailers grab it, analyze it and make sense of it," Puleri says.

To help retailers better track customer wants, needs and preferences, IBM is today launching a new Retail Center of Competency that will provide industry expertise in the areas of business analytics, customer insights and merchandising. Offering both talent and technology, IBM says the new center will help retailers streamline costs, reduce inefficiencies, aid product development and speed go-to-market activities.

To build its depth of expertise, IBM is hiring experts in both merchandizing analytics and customer analytics, Puleri says. Merchandizing is about optimizing product mix and store planning. Customer analytics entails identifying best customers and -- in a top area that survey respondents said needed improvement -- developing personalized pricing and promotional offers.

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