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This year was a bit of a dud for customers. Will 2013 be the same?

It's that time of year again. Eggnog time or something like that. Every year I look forward to slowing down and enjoying the holiday season, which naturally never happens as December is madness in the consulting world. Not only is it a three work-week month, but it's filled with loads of social commitments and client pressure to finish engagements before the break. 'Tis the season, I suppose. But it's also a good time to reflect on the year that has passed and to 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.

From the market's point of view

The year 2012 was eerily like 2011. It started with a bang and then ran flat out until June. Summer was strangely quiet, perhaps due to economic jitters tied to Europe, indecision in the run-up to the U.S. election, concerns over consumer confidence tied to housing sales slowdowns, and the end of the year has been a scramble of pricing evaluations and new product planning and marketing positioning for 2013.

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From the customer's point of view

2012 for customers, however, was a bit of a dud especially in contrast to 2011, when cloud computing, high-definition screens on smartphones and tablets exploded, and when some new retailers opened their doors in Canada, including Marshalls and J. Crew.

In retail, 2012 was a kind of bridge year since Target – probably the most talked about new-to-Canada banner in years – made many announcements in 2011 but won't open doors until 2013. Many other banners are retooling, but the results won't be seen visible to consumers until next year. The one bright spot, or low point, depending on your point of view, was the arrival of Diet Black Friday in Canada. It's encouraging to see some effort on the part of the Canadian sector to dissuade locals from crossing the border and spending all their holiday gift money in the U.S. in November – but it's also scary to see a trend toward boxing week style sales pre-Christmas – where will any profits be made in the future?

In mobile and banking, 2012 was a letdown in mobile payments. Many, including me, considered 2012 as the year mobile payment technology, platforms and adoption would take a big step forward. When was the last time you used your phone to pay for gas or bread? Instead, questions over monetization – or at least how to cover technology and roll-out costs – and turf wars left consumers still looking to the future for mobile transactions.

In the digital world, Facebook rolled out 'timeline' to some fanfare but little impact and then disappointed with its IPO. Twitter advanced its popularity and influence, but the user experience remained largely unchanged. Instagram and Pinterest emerged – but are still a long way from meaningful impact to typical Canadian customers.

Even Apple, the standard darling of consumer innovation, took a step back with the release of what many saw as more-of-the-same-only-brighter-or-smaller, and are paying for it now in their stock price retreat.

Maybe the lack of innovation and hot new products in 2012 will be great for customers and brands in 2013. Maybe there is now unconscious pent-up demand which will lead to big years for some brands and some retailers in 2013. Maybe the same is even true in the B2B world.

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Next: Consumer predictions for 2013.

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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