Small Business

Survey: Business Trends to Watch in 2012

Rieva Lesonsky, The Huffington Post

Heading into 2012, we're still facing a challenging economy, but it almost doesn't matter because there are so many ideas for savvy startups and business owners to capitalize on.

Mobile Commerce
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They say tough times breed creativity, and I think that's what's happening right now with an explosion of trends bubbling up. Here are just three of the ones I think are hottest to watch in the new year.

Going Mobile

What are consumers doing with their mobile phones? If you've hit the stores at all this holiday season, you know the answer is "shopping." A new study from eMarketer forecasts mobile commerce sales will hit $6.7 billion by the end of this year. While that's just a small part of overall retail sales, to be sure, it represents a 91.4 percent increase compared to 2010, and eMarketer predicts next year sales will increase by another 73.1 percent to reach $11.6 billion.

eMarketer projects that 37.5 million U.S. consumers ages 14 and up will make at least one purchase on their mobile phones in 2012, up from 26.8 million this year. Even those consumers who aren't actually making purchases on their smartphones are using them to make purchasing decisions: eMarketer says some 72.8 million mobile users will research or browse products on their phones next year.

Why it matters to your business: If you hope to compete in the world of retail, your store, site or products need to be accessible via mobile device. Make sure your website is optimized for mobile use (the eMarketer study only focused on smartphones, but tablets are a huge driver of online sales as well). Even if you don't sell products online, make sure your store is listed in local search engines, retail and review sites such as or Yelp, so customers searching for products on the go can find your location.

Food Concepts Sizzle

Is a hunger for things you can smell, touch and taste in our increasingly virtual world one reason new food and beverage concepts are thriving these days? As I reported on my website SmallBizTrendCast, restaurant industry market research firm Technomic recently released its survey predicting 2012's hottest restaurant trends.

Here are just a few:

1) Flexibility will be key to restaurant and foodservice success. That could mean offering customizable menu items, serving a variety of portion sizes for cost- and calorie-conscious customers, or serving foods at different times than you're used to (like breakfast for dinner).

2) Putting a twist on familiar fare: Customers want comfort food in a scary world, but they also want to feel a bit adventurous, which is why old favorites with a new twist will be popular. For example, you could try serving unfamiliar ethnic ingredients in a familiar form like a sandwich or on a pizza.

3) Information, please: Consumers want to know what they're eating. With many states requiring calorie labeling, this trend will continue as customers want to know everything from ingredient lists and nutrient content to where their food came from and how it's prepared.

Why it matters to your business: The restaurant industry is hot, but it's still cutthroat, so whether you are starting a restaurant or already own a thriving eatery, you need to keep innovating — and giving customers what they want — to stay in the game.

For the Health of It

Combining two hot trends — technology and health — the market for health- and fitness-related apps is heating up, as I reported in my TrendCast newsletter earlier this month. Tech research firm API Research recently released a study predicting the market for apps that help consumers stay healthy and keep fit will grow from $120 million in 2010 revenues to $400 million in 2016. This includes everything from apps that help people log the miles they run or calories they consume to apps that monitor home healthcare and personal emergency response for seniors living alone.

Why it matters to your business: The healthy app trend is driven by two growth markets: mobile devices and aging Americans. Boomers are a huge market for technology, and not only are they trying to stay fit as they age, but they're also caring for their elderly parents. Apps that help them do both conveniently are a natural for their lifestyles. But you don't need to focus on older consumers — younger generations who've grown up using mobile phones for everything will naturally turn to them to run apps related to their health and fitness, too.