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The truth about free shipping, social commerce and more

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As a loyal Summit attendee, I was excited to attend Sucharita Mulpuru's "A Look Back…and Forward…at Retail eCommerce Trends, 2011-2012" session today at Retail's BIG Show, especially on the heels of such a successful digital shopping season. The session offered a positive overview of how the holidays played out for retailers and a look ahead to see how some of the trends are shaping up for 2012. The online pie continues to grow, according to data presented by Mulpuru, which doesn't surprise any of the retailers who experienced record sales and growth last year.  Specifically, the 2011 holiday season revealed four key trends. 


Consumers now expect free shipping.

Fifty-five percent of consumers expect free shipping on all orders. Also, shipping clubs such as Amazon Prime and ShopRunner are growing. 

Search and email still win.

During the 2011 holiday season, paid search represented 37% and email was 17% of retailers' marketing spend.

Mobile is making everyone's job a lot harder.

Mobile shopping is definitely growing, and retailers are investing and planning in the channel, but it's clear that direct sales are only part of the picture. Meanwhile, cross-channel is having a greater impact. People are using their mobile devices to do a lot more than just buy - they're checking store hours, locating nearby stores, using special mobile shopping apps and more.

Social commerce is not quite living up to what retailers expected.

In fact, social networks are pretty negligible as a source of measured sales. But many retailer still have prioritized social networks. So how do the lessons learned during the 2011 holiday season affect the near future of digital retail? Well, sometime soon, web retail will comprise 20% of holiday retail spend in the U.S. Deep discounts, deals and free shipping are now a cost of doing business. Email and search will continue to grow. Retailers need to focus now on mobile optimization. Meanwhile, Facebook's influence exists, but it's smaller than retailers had originally thought. Also, there are four major technology companies that affect everything going on in digital retail, according to Mulpuru: Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook. Digital retailers should use them as models of agility and hiring. Nordstrom is an example of a retailer that modeled itself after an innovative, experimental tech company with its Nordstrom Innovation Lab, which operates quickly executed experiments to see if anything sticks.