Earthshattering Events that Escaped (Almost) Everyone in 2011

Amid the chaos and uncertainty that defined retail in 2011, a few happenings went largely unheralded.

Below, I take a look back at two that promise to create a big bang in branding and retail in 2012, and throw in a few predictions to set the stage for next year-and-beyond strategy.

Global Power Launches State-of-the-art Satellite

Grabble, Kosmix, OneRiot…What may sound like adult parlor games are actually a series of acquisitions made by Walmart under its newly-formed @WalmartLabs division. Headed up by the braniacs that came as a part of the bargain when Walmart acquired Kosmix back in April, @WalmartLabs has already more than made up for any of the virtual time that Walmart lost futzing with its physical assets during the much-maligned Project Impact era. A Facebook-mining gifting app and all manner of personalized shopping and couponing capabilities have already been conjured up.

Make no mistake though, the steady stream of incubation and innovation coming out of this lab isn’t just transforming Walmart’s “social web” trajectory, but raising the social, mobile, and big data bar for everyone in the retail orbit. By launching @WalmartLabs as a Silicon Valley-based satellite, Walmart is also breaking the mold by encouraging its mainline organization to reach for the stars rather than expecting @WalmartLabs’ sometimes speculative experiments to bring breakthroughs to its Bentonville-bound merchant universe.

Bottom line:

Going forward, the latest, greatest, and most richly-funded emerging media initiatives may or may not operate out of retailer HQs, as more retailers wake up to the benefits of strategic decentralization. How will you partner with their partners and engage with new stakeholders?

SVP of e-commerce and @WalmartLabs founder, Venky Harinarian, recently stated his belief that consumers’ interests are “better predictors” of what they will be interested in buying in the future. It sounds simple but isn’t.

Get ready for the post-POS, post vendor-managed world, in which retailers once again own the most relevant data (this time, they may or may not hand it over).

No more patting yourself on the back for hiring that sales analyst and calling it a day. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of “big” and unstructured data, it’s time to go to school (or be taken there).

Marketplace Mutants Establish Colonies

Like Sears, Walmart, and of course, Amazon before them, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble opened up their online platforms to third-party sellers this year. Although Amazon’s third-party business is said to represent 30% of its total sales, this isn’t about retailers attempting to beat Amazon at its own game (good luck with that). Instead, retailers are expanding their multi-channel universes and leveraging their digital assets to pull more customers into their orbits without carrying a SKU more in inventory. What’s not to like?

In conjunction with its October marketplace launch, Barnes & Noble added more than one million new items in five expansion categories: home and gift, consumer electronics, arts and crafts, toys and games, and baby products. Best Buy’s marketplace announcement made it clear that it will take a selective approach, so that “consumers won’t have to spend time sorting through redundant products or comparing prices from multiple websites.”

Currently, about 30 complementary-but-not-competitive retailers are featured on its Marketplace site, and customers can earn Best Buy Reward Zone points with every Marketplace purchase.

This article originally ran on the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association (LIMA) website.