01/15/2013 07:02 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Biggest Winners in Retail? Consumers, Hands Down

Who came out on top this past holiday season?

Shoppers like you and me, hands down.

Retailers were savvier than ever about using technology to stay in the game. Stores shuffled prices online hourly during sales days, battling to offer the lowest prices. Malls dished up apps that helped folks locate items on their lists and prices in stores, along with parking spots and bathrooms. Merchants showered us with advice through tweets, videos, and top 10 lists.

Yet, there's no secret why merchants are getting smarter. They have to. Today's 20/20 digital consumer is dictating the terms of the shopping experience.

Armed with mobile phones, deal finder apps, and tweets from friends, consumers just know a lot more. So really what's going on is that retailers are working to stay in step with the changes in how we like to shop.

By using analytics to compare millions of transactions each day during the holiday season, my company tracked a few of the ways our habits are evolving -- and how some retailers are working to keep in step with us. Here's what we learned:

If one device is good, two are better: such as a laptop and a smartphone, a tablet and a computer. Shoppers are becoming experts at juggling multiple devices at once. That ups the ante in terms of our savvy in hunting down bargains, crosschecking offers, and following alerts from apps when items we want go on sale or their stock gets low. It also means that we simply spend a lot more time here and there comparison shopping. We expect more from retailers: more updated data, more personalized advice.

Digitally empowered doesn't mean store-averse: As wedded as people are to running down sales online, they're also savvy about using comparison shopping to figure out which of their coveted items they can best find in stores. Physical stores are getting smart about sweetening this instinct by offering special deals to people who have a retailer's app on while they shop in the store.

Showrooming is here to stay: Retailers hate it, but going to a store, trying on a jacket or jeans, and then whipping out a phone or waiting 'till we get home to compare prices or similar products online is how we shop. Stores have to learn how to work with this by providing shoppers apps or QR codes they can use to get more details, including comparisons and reviews. Sales assistants need to have devices that help them help us. They're dealing with shoppers who say, "If the sweater I like isn't available in the color I want on the shelf, look up the inventory on the spot and ship the item to me at home."

We consumers are smarter, but really what we want is to be catered to. Exactly what that means is evolving because of all the bits and pieces of technology we now have at our fingertips. That's why Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are teaming up. Data defines a marketer's job and understanding consumers needs to be a techie's, so that together they can, through marketing strategies, dish up the apps, deals, and insights we shoppers expect. Keeping up with us is work -- but not impossible for retailers.

To find out more about IBM's smarter commerce solutions, click here.