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Retailers are using technology to counter the recession–or at least they should be, new research suggests. According to surveys by Boston-based Aberdeen and Dayton, OH-based NCR Corp., retailers describe technology as a tool that can help struggling businesses survive the downturn and give them a competitive edge.

Retailers need all the help they can get, the surveys show. Four out of five are grappling with historically higher cost of goods and low consumer confidence, according to Aberdeen, a Harte-Hanks Co. And shoppers are skittish, NCR found, focused on sales and discounts and willing to switch stores to find them.

Aberdeen surveyed about 200 retailers in November and December about the state of business and technology. Sahir Anand, senior analyst and chief author of the report State of the Retail Market: Technology and Business Strategies to Counter Recession, said the complexities of retail technologies intensify during a recession.

For example, he explains, there was a shift in value chain priorities and IT investments in the last six months of 2008 compared to the first six. In the second half of the year, “technology and process spending was geared towards accelerated product campaigns, door busters, and promotions–in terms of price discounts and frequency, customer loyalty programs, precision merchandizing, and lean inventory management.”

Anand says, “The obvious reason for this strategic shift is to pull through the current tough environment with minimal business risks such as store closings, working capital squeeze, depleted customer satisfaction due to staff cuts, and low margin attainment.”

During a recession, retail technology complexities intensify because there are so many options for scarce IT resources. But Anand says the main concerns for 2009 are customer-facing and retail optimization applications that directly affect the bottom-line, greater application integration and hosted application delivery models.

The primary goal, of course, is to attract and retain customers–a task NCR suggests will be easiest for retailers who make their businesses most convenient for consumers. Bargain conscious Americans are spending more time evaluating less familiar brands, switching stores to capitalize on deals and scheduling shopping trips to coincide with the arrival of paychecks, according to a survey of US consumers commissioned by NCR. So retailers that make things faster and easier with more in-store help from staff, faster checkout and seamless integration of store offerings with online, mobile and kiosk self service channels are best positioned to get new customers.

“Consumers in these uncertain times are clearly showing a preference for retailers that can meet their expectations through self-service options on the web, mobile and in store. These technologies are playing a growing role in helping retailers deliver competitive advantage,” says Michael Webster, chief strategy and communications officer for NCR.

The NCR research found:

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