What's Hot for This Retail Season

Your Rundown of This Year's Key Tech Trends

By Published on . 5

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Smart retailers will be layering plenty of digital and social media into this year's holiday campaigns, as they should. Major retailers now boast hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of likes on Facebook; one-third of consumers never leave home without their smartphone; and online shopping continues to be a bright spot. Retailers will be fighting hard for consumers' dollars during the next two months, and they'll be looking to technology to give them a leg up on the competition. To that end, there will be plenty of tech trends to keep an eye on:

Imitation

Trend: Retailers are likely to launch holiday promotions that borrow a thing or two from hot digital-shopping phenomena like Gilt Groupe and Groupon. With new technology, retailers are finding they too can host their own Gilt-like flash sales -- limited-time, limited-quantity online super sales -- or promote Groupon-like deals -- dramatic discounts that have to gain critical mass before they kicks in.

Retailers to Watch: Walmart recently tested its first group deal dubbed Crowdsaver on Facebook, where 5,000 likes unlocked 18% off a plasma TV. Just last week, Banana Republic, sibling brand to Gap and Old Navy, hosted a "three-hour lunch break" online sale with 30% off select items and free shipping during a set window.

Why it will pay off: Flash sales are a great way to create frenzy over excess inventory that's proven tough to move. With the pressure of limited timeframes and the lure of slashed rates, retailers have a chance to play into the shopping psychology that's catapulted Gilt from startup to veritable fashion trend. With Groupon look alikes, retailers have the ability to gauge customer interest and predict whether a certain deal will be profitable. Plus, Facebook-based group deals like Walmart's recent effort are yet another way to rack up likes.

Personalization

Trend: Retailers are starting to harness all the purchase data they capture online with personalized offers for shoppers. That means showing customers products they're actually interested in, rather than making them wade through irrelevant offers.

Retailers to watch: Sears.com has launched AdYourWay, a tool that serves up personalized product recommendations or deals and promotions based on previous purchases and product searches. Consumers will also be able to "follow" a product. Familiar to anyone who has used Yapta.com, this option allows consumers to sign up to receive email alerts when a product's price drops. Or consumers can set the price they're willing to pay and be alerted when the product hits that price. Similar efforts are under way at Steve Madden, which has partnered with Mogreet to use customers' past purchase history to send relevant deals via mobile messages.

Why it will pay off: Consumers want shopping, especially holiday shopping, to be easy. Serving up relevant products and promotions could mean time saved for customers and they'll likely love you for it. Personalization also brings the logic of online ad targeting to product search and e-commerce. Mix in alerts for price-conscious shoppers when an item on their holiday list reaches the price that's comfortable, and you've got a guaranteed sale.

Mobile shopping assistants

Trend: Retailers will give consumers a way to get their questions answered without flagging down a harried sales associate. With more Americans toting smartphones -- by 2011, Nielsen says they'll outnumber feature phones in the U.S. -- retailers are beginning to provide what Alexandre Mars, CEO of mobile agency Phonevalley, calls "mobile shopping assistants." Consumers can now turn to their phones with questions like: "What color does this shoe come in?" or "Where can I find the iPads?"

Retailers to watch: Two days before Black Friday, Target plans to post store maps to its website for download to mobile devices. And at Steve Madden, Mogreet allows shoppers to text short codes and product names to get text messages, images and videos for further product information. There's also a feature to figure out which stores have desired products in stock.

Why it will pay off: Mobile shopping assistants have the potential to reduce stress for consumers, which means they probably won't be afraid to come back. They'll also free up over-taxed holiday sales staff. And with solutions like Mogreet's, retailers can make sure customers are finding the products they're looking for, as well as lay the mobile pipe to circle back with consumers the next time a sale or new product drops.

Nonstop social media

Trend: Look for constant communication via Twitter and Facebook this holiday season, as well as special offers for followers. Shockingly, last year some retailers were incommunicado during the all-important weekend after Thanksgiving. We're guessing retailers have wised up this year and will be tweeting and updating Facebook in between bites of turkey.

Retailers to watch: Last year we took Abercrombie & Fitch, Amazon, Kohl's, Old Navy and Target to task for having poor social-media strategies. All of those retailers have since increased their followers, putting even more at stake. Kohl's went from 900,000 fans to 2.9 million likes on Facebook, for example, while Abercrombie has nearly tripled its followers on Twitter.

Why it will pay off: It's an interested, captive audience. If consumers have taken the time to like a retailer on Facebook or follow it on Twitter, they care what the retailer has to say.

Breaking down barriers

Trend: Retailers will be more closely aligning their online and offline presence this year. Online sales are expected to jump between 7% and 9% to around $31 billion, according to ComScore.

Retailers to watch: Kohl's is allowing customers to redeem Kohl's Cash -- shoppers get $10 for every $50 spent -- for the first time online. And Macy's has plans for "grab-and-go gift shops" on the main floor of its stores, as well as online.

Why it pay off: Nearly 80% of consumers plan to do at least some of their shopping online this season, according to the National Retail Federation and BigResearch. One-sixth will do more than half of their holiday shopping online.

Location-based discounts

Trend: Facebook just launched Deals for its location-based Places feature, which allows retailers and businesses to alert shoppers of discounts and promotions when they're near a store. Likewise, Foursquare, Shopkick, Checkpoints and Loopt Star all offer rewards for checking in or scanning products with phones once they're inside stores.

Retailers to watch: Macy's and American Eagle are early adopters in the space, having signed on with Facebook Deals and Shopkick. Best Buy and Sports Authority are also onboard with Shopkick, while Gap has run promotions using Foursquare and is also offering free jeans to the first 10,000 people to use its Facebook Deal.

Why it will pay off: Rewards and discounts delivered when a consumer is already out and about shopping means a retailer might get a consumer to stop into its store, rather than a competitor's. "Wouldn't it be great if you could actually reward them for actually walking into your store?" said Shopkick CEO Cyriac Roeding. In the case of Facebook, a retailer also gets in front shoppers' Facebook friends, garnering a coveted mention.

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