Before I start on my thoughts for this New Year, I would like to use our first blog to wish all our readers a Happy and Successful 2014.

There is no doubt it will be a challenge. George Osborne has already warned us that more austerity lies ahead; saying he was “beginning not ending” a debate on the “difficult choices” that he believes have to be made. Huge cuts in Government spending will have a knock-on effect on the economy as a whole, meaning success in any business sense will not be easy. However success is certainly possible and we have three key predictions for the route to retailing success this year – irrespective of the product.

Integrate distribution channels seamlessly
Give customers the ability to research and buy in a way that suits their lifestyle. One example of the success of this approach comes from John Lewis who have recognised that the future of retail lies in ‘bricks and clicks’, combining the high street and online. The department store group analysed a year’s worth of data to find out how its customers shop today. It says that 40% of its online purchases are now collected from a store using its click and collect service. That’s up from 27% a year earlier. Some 42% of John Lewis’ online traffic now comes from smartphones and tablet computers, but obviously many that start the buying process on-line prefer to complete the purchase in store.

The internet opens up great opportunities, but customers do not simply want to be herded down one fulfilment route. The successful companies of 2014 will deliver an integrated service across multiple channels be it mobile, computer, telephone or face to face, enabling research and fulfilment via whatever channel is the most convenient for the customer.

Personalise your approach for customers
In our view there is no secret to winning trust, loyalty and ultimately success – you need to improve how you treat your customers and make sure they feel like individuals. As customers we all have unique requirements: price, features, convenience, level of assistance required… the list goes on. The retail experience for each customer needs to make them feel special and the products offered need to match their particular needs.

No one will argue that the market is difficult and profit margins are tight. We are in an age of increased commoditisation and multiple suppliers – but a short term focus on making a ‘quick buck’ at the expense of the customer is no longer going to work. Customers are knowledgeable, savvy and empowered – deliver or they will move on.

Instil a culture of innovation and creativity
Unfortunately as companies grow and enjoy success they institutionalise various functions and settle down into comfortable routines. To ensure they continue to be successful, they should be working out how to retain that flow of new ideas alongside managing ‘business as usual’. They need to do much more than just ‘re-innovate their existing products’; they need to branch out into new services, discover new business models, adopt business process modernisation and, in general, keep up the pace of creativity on all fronts. Forward-thinking CEOs understand that innovation should be part of the DNA of their business, just like listening and being close to customers.

In conclusion, the winners in 2014 will be those who do not just talk about putting their customers first, but actually do – after all action speaks louder than words. Key will be smart technology and I am in no doubt that Companies that best embrace the advantages of current technology and continue to be one step ahead will be the ones that ‘stand out from the crowd’ and have a success story to tell at the end of 2014