What's in store for retail technology in 2014?

It's a new year, but not necessarily a new start for retailers in 2014 as they look to continue the evolution of their businesses in order to meet the demands of the modern customer.

With mobile devices firmly establishing themselves as the tool of choice among shoppers in 2013, many of the new developments in the industry are sure to revolve around this sector, but the industry is also expecting to get more personal through clever use of data, as well as enhance its customer communication through more advanced use of social media.

Essential Retail has collated some of the latest research and commentary to highlight just what the industry thinks will prove important in the 12 months ahead, giving retailers an indication of where their technology investment might be best placed.

Mobile impatience

Carin Van Vuuren, chief marketing officer at Usablenet, argues that confidence in using mobile devices in the shopping process will increase consumer expectations in this field and that shoppers will lose patience if retail sites are not optimised.

"Spinning wheels, slow load times and clunky user journeys just won’t be tolerated – mobile sites must be designed with the needs of the user in mind," she explained.

"This user experience will make the difference between brands that win with their users and those that lose out to the competition."

Van Vuuren suggests that the same can be said for mobile apps, which she expects to grow in popularity.

"As consumer demand for apps increases, so does the expectation," she noted.

"Apps with less than four star ratings (even for updates) will not survive. To remain viable and in demand, apps must provide innovative and entertaining experiences, accepting that mobile sites are better-suited to quick actions and transactional tasks."

Personalisation, personalisation, personalisation

With so much customer behaviour information now available to retailers through the existence of various loyalty programmes and efficient data collection tools, 2014 could be the year that retailers can start defining what big data really means to them.

RBTE exhibitor Blue Yonder recently announced it will be launching a European Data Science Academy in 2014 to aid businesses in their management and analysis of data, which is indicative of the opportunities that exist for organisations such as retailers.

Commenting on what retailers can expect in the new year, Rakuten's Play.com managing director Shingo Murakami said: "In 2014, retailers will have access to more information about their customers' preferences and shopping habits than ever before.

"Used intelligently, this insight will not only shape what products retailers stock but also how they market and sell them. As more shoppers embrace multiple channels when shopping, retailers must take steps to better understand the journey that customers take.

"This insight will give retailers the understanding they need to develop relevant content and personalised deals, and ultimately help to generate more sales."

Research commissioned by retail technology vendor Demandware at the end of 2013 showed that 41% of retailers cite 'personalisation' as an area they will invest in during 2014. Alongside cross-channel promotions, this was the most popular intended investment area for retail companies.

Perhaps linked to this trend and with consumers so willing to share their personal information on social media, more than a third of retail businesses questioned in the survey said that they would be investing in social integration in the year ahead.

Mobile payment movement

Although the landscape is still fragmented and retailers are being cautious in where they place their investment, the mobile payments and mobile wallet landscape is widely expected to take a few steps forward in 2014.

Independent corporate fraud organisation UKFraud expects there will be new standards established in this field over the coming months, as well as growth in mobile device authentication.

The group said that it is time for the technology responsible for the authenticating of IT- and mobile-based devices to improve 'event' authentication, with growth in 2014 expected to come from existing sectors, as well as new sectors building the technologies into their evolving products to add new layers of checking.

CEO of the UKFraud Bill Trueman said: "Every year it gets harder to predict the trends for the coming year as the government continues to chop and change its various approaches to fraud, rather than addressing the issues and planning for the future – where there is so much happening.

"Sadly, as a result, fraudsters can feel quite optimistic about 2014 as without clear plans strategies and direction to deter or to defeat them, many now believe that the UK has become an attractive and welcoming place for their activities. This will be the case, unless of course there is a wholesale change in culture and to the current approach."

With the continued growth of mCommerce and in particular mobile payments and wallets, regulations will need to be established in this field. UKFraud hopes that 2014 will see the European Payments Council start to develop a direction and strategy.

If this does not happen imminently then it may take a number of mobile payment company failures to accelerate regulatory action. Trueman argues that start-up failures may ramp up later in 2014 due to an existing lack of industry infrastructure.

Green shoots of recovery

There were a number of retailers reporting strong sales results as 2013 drew to a close, but the profit warning from department store chain Debenhams earlier this week is a sign that businesses are still operating in a tough trading environment.

Jonathan Wall, eCommerce director of Littlewoods.com parent company Shop Direct, recently summed up the position many retailers find themselves in as a new year begins.

"We are starting to see the start of a recovery, but it's been a really tough struggle to be successful," he told Essential Retail.

"I would say 12 months ago we were working just as hard but weren’t seeing rewards – we're now seeing growth and ROI from marketing and search.

"It's still tough and customers are saying they haven't got a huge amount to spend, so we must work harder than ever to get that growth."