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U.S. retail industry looking at 2013 with optimism


Retailers started 2013 with a fresh sense of confidence, dedicating more resources to new technology and making a commitment to implementing new processes that engage the customer both in the store and via the online and mobile channels.

"The lines between bricks and mortar and online shopping are converging because that's what the customer wants," said Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of the National Retail Federation, in welcoming more than 27,000 retail executives this week to the trade group's annual convention at the Javits Center in New York City.

Retailers heard predictions that 2013 will be a good year for the industry.

Merchants will "see more confident consumers" and "increases in real income" because of low inflation and low energy costs, according to Ira Kalish, a global director at Deloitte Research.

This follows a decent holiday season in North America, with NRF reporting an increase of 3 per cent in sales, despite a spending slowdown during the first half of December.

Retail experts also predict that every retailer eventually will be omni-channel, with every neighborhood grocer having a smart phone app and virtual retailers like Amazon opening their warehouses to customers for browsing and shopping in person.

On the technology front, mobility continues to gain momentum.

Providing a retail IT forecast for the coming year at a session on Monday, Greg Buzek, president of the research firm IHL Group, said, "The fact that 66 per cent of retailers are looking at increasing their store count in 2013 combined with the response that overall reduction in future POS terminal purchases is expected to be 12.4 per cent puts a huge punctuation mark on the impact that mobile is having in retail.”

The group’s 10th annual RIS Store Systems Study revealed that mobile's influence in the store is only accelerating and isn't expected to slow down for several years.

The mood at the annual gathering was more upbeat this year, with many of the 450 vendors at the accompanying trade show taking larger booths, with flashier displays.

For instance, Intel was demonstrating a machine that the Costa coffee chain has installed in 2,500 gasoline stations in England.

The machine, the size of a soda vending machine, dispenses brewed-to-order espressos and lattes, featured the aromas and sounds of the local Starbucks without the occasional sassiness of the baristas.

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