Having spent much of the past 12 to 18 months developing offerings for both customers and staff across multiple touch points, the next challenge facing fashion brands and retailers is to connect the multi-channel dots as stores, desktop and mobile channels merge.

Smart investments here will not only create a seamless and consistent experience - but can also help to improve conversion rates, build brand loyalty and repeat sales, and even capture customer demand from international markets.

Several surveys released this week to coincide with the NRF Annual Convention & Expo in New York highlight some of the trends retailers can expect to accelerate in 2013.

Research from IBM has found that shoppers are poised to dramatically expand their purchasing power beyond the store - especially when it comes to luxury items like designer apparel.

"To satisfy clients, retailers must deliver a consistent, convenient shopping experience across each consumer touch point, extending from the store to online and back again," notes Jill Puleri, global retail leader at IBM Global Business Services.

"The key is using data and analytics to better understand the behaviour and preferences of shoppers to close the sale."

The study also found that nearly half of online purchases resulted from "showrooming," where consumers browse goods at a store, but ultimately buy them online due to price and convenience. 

Here too there are opportunities for retailers to better connect their store and online presence to capture the sale to showroomers - most of whom are younger, male and affluent shoppers. It is also key in global markets, with a higher incidence of showrooming in China (26%) and India (13%) than the US (7%), the IBM research found.

Another report from Shop.org and Forrester Research agrees that as shoppers become increasingly connected, online retailers in 2013 will need to get back to basics. The State Of Retailing Online survey notes they will focus on strategies and tactics to improve the customer experience and increase web conversion and loyalty across all devices.

This also aligns with the 'Evolution of Experience Retailing' survey from Oracle Retail, which found every interaction should meet consumers' expectations. While there is no 'one size fits all' approach across multiple touch points, retailers should focus on enabling commerce anytime, anywhere via easily navigable channels online. In store, meanwhile, consumers want product showcases and a vibrant, engaging environment.

Seamless systems
But of course delivering a seamless customer experience doesn't just apply to the front end of the business; it extends all the way to the back-end systems too. Accurate and up-to-date information on products, availability and pricing, as well as inventory quantity and location, is all critical to delivering on an order.

Software tools helping to make this possible include technology to forecast demand more accurately so that firms can price, promote and allocate inventory according to consumer preferences, groups of stores and regions.

It is also possible to automatically identify the hidden relationships between customer, product, store, web and social interactions - to help make more effective marketing and merchandising decisions.

And RFID is on the radar again, with the latest shift seeing more tagging at source in the garment factory to help boost speed and accuracy.

Below are ten retail technology deployments and new technology announcements from this year's NRF Annual Convention & Expo.

  • JDA Software Group has released a new tool designed to help retailers deliver goods to customers by aligning real-time supply processes and inventory levels to source the products. The Customer Engagement Cloud solution is intended to ensure that onmi-channel retailers have full visibility into current and future inventories, can align inventory to customer demand, and provide shoppers with the information they need to help convert visits into sales.
  • Gerber Technology has enhanced its YuniquePLM solution to help retailers, brand owners and manufacturers streamline their day-to-day processes to speed time-to-market, reduce lead times and improve margins. Software advances include enhanced integration with Adobe Illustrator to accelerate style and line creation; new capabilities to help estimate overall product costs; 360-degree digital images to speed sample approvals; tools to track compliance; and the extension of its business intelligence dashboards to suppliers.
  • Markdowns are a fact of life in apparel, with 35% of unit volume moving at discounted pricing, according to Avery Dennison Retail Branding and Information Solutions (RBIS). It has introduced what it describes as "the world's smartest markdown management solution", which includes the Pathfinder 6140 Printer to help boost the speed and accuracy of the markdown process. Operators can scan and mark 15 garments per minute, helping to lift sales, improve margins and efficiencies across the supply chain. Value apparel retailer Body Central says it is using the Pathfinder to achieve 98% markdown accuracy.
  • Another Avery Dennison customer is UK-based retailer Marks & Spencer, which is extending its item level RFID tagging programme to include all clothing and home products in its 700 stores. Future plans include the use of RFID scanning throughout the supply chain to increase accuracy and speed of distribution.
  • Opportunities for retailers to deploy RFID technology at garment factories were also highlighted by TradeCard, the supply chain collaboration and trade platform. Leveraging RFID tags at source can help to improve speed, compliance and transparency, the company says, adding that it is working with retailers to support all forms of store-ready packing at the factory using RFID technology.
  • The new release of the integrated retail planning tool from TXT e-solutions integrates best practices from its recent acquisition of Maple Lake. Release 5.0 of TXTPlanning lets users navigate the collection, plan and analyse by images or icons, making assortment planning a more intuitive process. The Lite Client feature supports collaboration with large user communities, including seasonal buying or forecasting.
  • QuantiSense, meanwhile, has added new customer analytics to its Decision Orchestration Platform, including capabilities for localised assortment. New user Hibbett Sports, the US sporting goods retailer with over 800 stores, will use the tool to analyse localised assortments and items, store by store, across a number of performance areas - helping to improve pre-season plans and in-season adjustments, and ultimately drive higher sales, margins and inventory productivity.
  • QuantiSense's new Q Customer tool is also intended to help retailers identify the hidden relationships between customers, products, stores, web and social interactions - which, in turn, can help improve marketing and merchandising decisions.
  • By centralising the exchange of information between all parties in the retail supply chain, the new cloud-based CBX5 software from Core Solutions can improve collaboration, transparency and efficiency from concept to delivery. The integrated PLM/sourcing software synchronises planning, product development, buying, sourcing, order management, logistics and finance - and is said to feature more than 200 enhancements.
  • And to help drive global Direct to Consumer (DTC) expansion across multiple brands and channels, Deckers Outdoor has implemented Oracle Retail Merchandising, Planning and Stores Solutions to centralise and improve its operations. The company, which owns the Ugg Australia and Teva brands, plans to grow from 70 Ugg concept and outlet stores worldwide more than 200 in the next five years, with a seamless, consistent experience in stores and online. The Oracle Retail platform is helping to give real-time insight into item and store sales, so demand can be forecast more accurately and inventory allocated accordingly.