This year shoppers can expect faster, more flexible fulfilment and a personal but profitable experience

As the next generation of shopper becomes ever more demanding, going into 2014, retailers must place the customer experience at the front of their retail strategy. And, whilst striving for a high quality experience, they mustn’t lose sight of profitability.

We’re still seeing some high profile casualties on the high street, including most recently Blockbuster and Barratts. Retailers are in an all-out battle for sales but this should not blind them from ensuring that they are offering their customers the highest level of customer service, whilst ensuring they do so profitably

A couple of key retail trends likely to emerge in 2014 include:

1.     Personal and Profitable

In 2014, business conditions will force retailers to offer their customers a more personalised service, while still keeping profit front of mind. Consumers are now more demanding than ever before and expect a personalised and fast service from their favoured retailers. Herein lies the danger for retailers; they must ensure that they strike the balance between offering high levels of customer service and delivering orders profitably.

2.     Faster and More Flexible Fulfilment

Customers want their purchases – and they want them now. Too few retailers are currently offering customers next day delivery, two-hour click-and-collect or ship-from-store services.

Ebay’s acquisition of Shutl comes as it looks to offer UK customers one-hour delivery – and the fulfilment battle won’t stop there. Shutl’s current delivery record is 14 minutes and 58 seconds – indicating that it believes shoppers will demand this level of speed in the near future.  For this to be possible, retailers need to have a 360-view of their channels, know exactly where their stock is and be able to see where the demand is coming from. This will allow them to manage inventory as a single, centralised pool and get stock to where it is needed quickly and efficiently.

3.     Social Shopping

Retailers who effectively monitor their online channels can give themselves a big head start and maximise their sales. Take the “Kate effect” - when the Duchess of Cambridge wears an outfit, it is posted over social media networks and instantly sells out online

But the next development of this is likely to be retailers using social channels to take customer orders. Those retailers that will succeed in this difficult market are those that see social media as another retail channel.

4.     New Consumer Technologies Go Mainstream

With Google Glass likely to launch in early 2014, its impact on the retail sector could be huge, particularly when it comes to mobile shopping. So what impact is it likely to have? A recent survey by Venda found that 45 per cent of 18-24 year olds would use the technology to search for available stock and products to purchase while in-store.

To facilitate this, retailers’ supply chains must be able to comprehend a seamless flow of data in real-time. While the opportunities are huge – retailers must have the back-office systems in place to fully capitalise on the opportunity. With more data from customers flowing through their channels than ever before, retailers’ supply chains need to be at the height of fitness and flexibility to maximise these opportunities.

5.     Greater Supply Chain Control

The global horse meat scandal in early 2013 highlighted one of the biggest issues within the food industry - sourcing and traceability. As a result of globalisation, products are now crossing more international boundaries than ever before as retailers seek to cut costs even further. This means supply chains are getting longer and more difficult to manage.

To avoid a repetition of the horse meat scandal, retailers need to have accurate and actionable data across the entire supply chain. This is in addition to ensuring that sufficient testing has been done of products before they are shipped, especially in the food industry. Following the intensity of this year’s scandal and the resulting fall-out, this is something retailers will be taking a lot more seriously going forward.