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In this Feb. 15, 2012 photo, a shopper enters a Nordstrom department store in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press)
In this Feb. 15, 2012 photo, a shopper enters a Nordstrom department store in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press)

COMMENTARY

Will Canadians be underwhelmed by arrival of new U.S. retail banners? Add to ...

It’s a good time to reflect on the year that has passed and look ahead into the year to come. I like to take stock of the trends my clients and I observed, as well as try to get ahead by reading the tea leaves on movements and patterns we believe will emerge.

Here are some other trends seen in 2012, and where I think they will head in 2013:

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Content curation

I thought content curation and guided choice would continue their surge, as brands of all shapes and sizes awoke to customer apathy, dissatisfaction, anger and exhaustion with consumer choice and marketing messaging.

I think, to an extent, we did see the trend continue, with grocers, for example, simplifying their stores and thinning out brands in certain categories.

In my mind, there’s no question this trend will continue. Advertising effectiveness is in vogue now, and one unintended consequence will be the light it can shine on noise in consumers’ minds.

Accessible 'premiumization'

I thought accessible 'premiumization' would really take off. Offerings with higher, but not too high, price points and lovely packaging, in what you could argue are commodity categories, seemed poised to capture wallets in the encouraging, yet delicate, economic recovery in Canada.

I do think more and more banners emerged or repositioned here, to a high degree of success. For example, Le Creuset, Lululemon and The Bay, which all had great years, moved further into this category.

Here again, I see no evidence of a slowdown. I believe we will see more luxury brands finding a way to come down market into this category. B

MW made this move years ago with a focus on the 3-series, and more category average brands sought to move up into this category (e.g. Sleep Country, with its new lines).

An assault on salt

I thought 2012 would bring an assault on salt. Not so much. Grocers, restaurants and food brands did not go there to the extent that I, and some of my clients, believed they would.

It’s hard to say whether 2013 will be the year, but it only takes one significant player. Perhaps Loblaw or O&B will start the trend.

Pricing

I saw 2012 as a year when pricing would play a significant role for manufacturers, distributors, marketers and retailers. I thought that both price optimization as an internal tool and a la carte pricing as an external weapon would come to the fore.

We certainly spent a lot of time helping customers rethink pricing as a way to increase margins – and more brands are starting to debundle as a response to customer pushback and as a way to increase individual SKU price points. Netflix and UFC were the models to follow.

Again, with some evidence of continued, but fragile, recovery, and some evidence of another recession on the horizon, it’s hard to imagine pricing not playing an important role as firms try to capture more margins with less risk than cost-cutting, diminished customer experience.

If the propensities above are likely to continue into 2013, then what new trends can we also expect next year? Here are a few my clients are talking about:

Appropriate social media planning and spending

I attended Facebook’s annual day for marketing professionals this past fall. Most of the case studies presented spoke to measurement and connections to sales or cost savings. Real dollars.

I think a lot of companies are realizing they have spent two years investing in social media for the sake of investing in social media, and are finally listening to folks such as the leaders at Facebook Canada: Social media investment must support core marketing objectives, and must be measured in monetary terms, not just in industry measures such as “likes” and clickthroughs.

I think 2013 will bring a more careful evaluation – and not necessarily a decrease – of social media’s role in their marketing plans.

Deeper understanding of human behaviour

It’s a short putt to predict that companies will spend even more time, energy and money on understanding the behaviour of customers, especially with ethnography now the accepted buzz term here.

But I think it will run deeper than ethnography. I hear clients express a desire to really understand drivers of human behaviour – change, decision-making and influencing activity, specifically – in order to change the way they think about dealing with customers.

Next year may be the year you see human behaviour at the core discussed in the business media and in client settings, and not the research techniques associated with its study.

The retail non-revolt

With some significant U.S. banners opening in Canada in 2013 – Target, Nordstrom, and Carl’s Jr. in a more serious way in the QSR space – it is tempting to write off or worry about Canadian brands in those spaces. The demise of Sears has long been predicted. Some experts argue that luxury banners such as Harry’s and Holt’s will take their lumps. And Burger King and Harvey’s are often seen as vulnerable in Canada. Maybe – but I doubt it.

I think it’s a safer bet that, at this time next year, all of those companies will still be here. It’s possible that consumers, underwhelmed by the new U.S. banners in Canada (which they may have visited while cross-border shopping), will turn back to established Canadian players, similar to what happened to Canadian Tire and Shopper’s Drug Mart when Wal-Mart came to Canada.

Mark Healy is a managing partner at Torque Consulting Group, a division of Satov Consultants, specializing in market entry, product launch and customer insight. Mark is a regular speaker and media contributor, and he is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to coaching and developing professionals early in their careers. He is a passionate Queen's Engineering and Ivey Business School grad, a past chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors and currently an advisory board member for Holiday Helpers. Mark lives in Toronto with his wife Charlotte, his daughter Evangeline and their two bulldogs, McDuff and Duke.

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