The 2012 consumer is not much different from the 2011 consumer, and the changes that began over the past 12-24 months will solidify in 2012. With faster networks, more Web-centric smartphone devices, and the ease of making mobile payments, more shoppers purchased on mobile devices in 2011 than in years prior, demonstrating a trend toward mobile buying rather than simply mobile researching.

In December 2011, sales from smartphones and tablets accounted for 11% of total online sales, up from 5.5% in December 2010, according to IBM Benchmark. The same study found that iPad tablet users are more likely to complete a purchase: The conversion rate for iPad users was 6.3% in December 2011, compared with 3.1% for mobile devices overall.

In addition, the 2012 consumer will continue to turn to Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks—including some new ones that are gaining steam—to get suggestions and feedback from social connections when making buying decisions.

To help prepare you for a new year and the changing mobile and social retail environment, I've provided a list of the top trends to watch and suggestions for how to respond to your customers' continually evolving shopping habits.

1. Online storefronts come to tablets

As if you didn't have enough work to do extending your brand to smartphones, the popularity of tablets means you'll need to make sure your online shopping experience also works in the tablet environment. However, the challenges posed by smartphones aren't necessarily the same ones posed by tablets.

For example, the iPad doesn't support Adobe Flash, so if your retail storefront relies on that programming tool, you'll need alternate solutions for the tablet storefront. Also, tablet users don't use a mouse to click on and zoom in on images. If your site has images that require a mouse for zooming, you'll need an alternate—tablet-friendly—method.

2. Ensure a consistent experience

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Thierry Costa is vice-president of marketing at SLI Systems, where he is responsible for the company's global marketing efforts as well as driving growth of SLI's search technology and services in the e-commerce and publishing industries. He can be reached via