U.S. retailers saw a glimmer of hope when the Commerce Department reported a 0.4 percent rise in sales in January. Given the fact that volatile variables that are key to the economic recovery have yet been solved (e.g., the European debt crisis, the housing market slump, etc.), many people, especially business owners, are taking any upswing in economic activity with a rather large grain of salt. However, Colliers International’s new report may give retailers a little insight into navigating such an uncertain economy.

The U.S. Retail Highlights: 2012 Outlook gives a holistic view of the retail industry, highlighting not only the current landscape, but emerging trends as well. Although the bulk of the full report has giant retail corporations in mind, smaller businesses can still benefit from several of the report’s findings. Here are some takeaways and trends that could help give your business an edge:

  • E-commerce will grow exponentially, both in the way products are offered and purchased–with the latter seeing an influx in transactions via mobiles and tablets. Mobile sales this year are projected to climb 49 percent to $10 billion as retailers are seeing such devices as a bridge between their online and offline operations.
  • Despite strong consumer spending during the holiday season, the National Retail Federation predicts a mere 3.4 percent increase in retail sales for 2012, compared to 2011’s 4.6 percent. But accessories, electronics, and small personal luxuries are pegged to generate the most revenue this year.
  • The report recognizes the bargain hunting consumer who uses their phone to search for better deals elsewhere while shopping at a store as a “potential game-changer” and that businesses need to find new ways to snag their attention and cement loyalty.
  • Although offering discounts or sales is typically a sure-fired way to attract business, when it comes to determining a retailer’s value, more consumers will choose “experience” over price–in that they seek unique products, intuitive customer service, more flexible shopping options with multi-channel integration, etc.
  • As the report states, retailers should remove “every potential barrier that stands between converting a customer’s interest to purchase, into the intent to purchase.” It goes on to suggest ways of making your business and products more accessible, such as having an easy-to-navigate website that can handle high traffic during peak times; ensuring there’s adequate parking and clear signage at your store; and making the return process easier, as well as consistent with online policies.
  • There will be a significant increase of retailers offering limited-time-only (LTO) items and mobile-device deals to generate a sense of urgency to buy and to be where consumers are in the digital and social media spaces. It’s noted that restaurants aren’t typically successful with LTO menu items and should stick to offering time-of-the-day specials like happy hours.
  • Larger, well-capitalized retail companies will seek to expand by making strategic acquisitions of smaller companies. Last year saw such examples as the Nordstom/HauteLook and Walgreens/drugstore.com acquisitions. The surge in e-commerce is expected to be a catalyst for these acquisitions that will allow companies to extend their brands outside their core competencies.