As the autumn air turns crisp and the leaves fall, retailers around the country are gearing up for what they hope is a highly profitable holiday season. But besides making sure they\u2019re fully stocked with the holiday gifts customers want, they are also taking stock of everything they learned in 2015 \u2013 so they can up their game after the New Year rolls around.\u00a0\nThis is particularly true in the realm of sophisticated technology tools, which can now be found in every nook and cranny of today\u2019s leading retail organizations \u2013 from up and down the supply chain and every corner of the store, across marketing departments, and, of course, at the very core of ecommerce and mobile. Savvy retailers know that in order to compete in a fast-paced landscape of demanding customers looking for shopping Nirvana through smartphones and social media, they need to keep up with constantly evolving technology at every turn.\u00a0\nThese are seven big lessons retailers learned in 2015, with an eye towards 2016 success:\u00a0\n1. Sales associates need to be tech-empowered\u00a0\nIn 2015, retailers learned that sales associates can no longer be focused on the details of just one location, but have insight into available inventory across the brand\u2019s full network, as well as an understanding of customer preferences and transaction histories,\u201d says Vikas Aron, director at Manhattan Associates, a supply chain software provider. \u201cEssentially, they are selling the enterprise, not just the stock of one location, and as such they must act as enterprise sales associates.\u201d That means retailers must focus on training their associates to use and understand technology tools not only to serve in-store customers, but pick, pack and ship inventory and handle omnichannel orders and questions.\u00a0\n[Related: 5 cutting-edge retail technology trends]\u00a0\n2. Omnichannel is not a choice\u00a0\nRetailers spent 2015 embracing the notion of omnichannel \u2013 that is, streamlining and improving the use of multiple channels along a shopper\u2019s journey, from researching online and checking prices on mobile phones to buying in-store \u2013 because customers are demanding it, says Oliver Guy, retail practice head at digital business platform Software AG. \u201cOmnichannel is no longer a choice,\u201d he says. \u201cIt has to be an integral part of a retailer\u2019s overall transformation strategy to meet growing customer needs and expectations,\u201d he says. The challenge for 2016 will be to leap over serious technology hurdles, he adds. \u201cExisting systems and processes are optimized for a single-channel world and retailers must introduce new processes, increased levels of visibility and increased automation to deal with the additional complexity of omnichannel.\u201d\u00a0\n3. Cyber-crime isn\u2019t going anywhere\u00a0\nEMV, encryption and tokenization technologies, meant to prevent fraud, have been adopted by more US retailers than ever, thanks to October\u2019s EMV compliance deadline and liability shift. But in 2015 retailers learned that cyber-crime \u2013 especially the type associated with POS malware attacks \u2013 would not decline, says Jay Townsend, senior associate in Booz Allen\u2019s retail business. \u201cThe operational urgency of POS malware attacks will only increase and could be more ambitious against major retailers as criminals attempt to gain access and take advantage of existing vulnerabilities,\u201d he says. As a result, he explains, in 2015 many top retailers began to implement more sophisticated cyber security operations centers to integrate cyber threat intelligence, threat defense operations, and vulnerability management capabilities.\u00a0\n4.\u00a0 Same-day fulfillment is mission-critical\u00a0\nEcommerce giant Amazon is the current master of same-day fulfillment, but other big-box retailers including Walmart, Nordstroms, Macy's and Home Depot have realized they need to get shorten their supply chain as much as possible by opening up localized fulfillment centers, says Robert McCarthy, Technical Advisor at Mobiquity. \u201cThis is a radical shift from the old days of centralized fulfillment, and it\u2019s a result of consumer expectations \u2013\u00a0they see it, want it, purchase it, and demand it on the same day,\u201d he says. That fulfillment can either be shipment to the home, or in-store pickup (click-and-pick conversion), but the fulfillment centers need to be geographically close to make this happen.\u00a0\n5. Personalization must be real-time\u00a0\n\u201cIt\u2019s important to capitalize on shoppers\u2019 interest while it\u2019s hot \u2013 not the next time they visit or an hour later \u2013 otherwise a sale could easily be lost,\u201d says Andy Zimmerman, CMO at software provider Evergage, whose clients include retailers RueLaLa and Gardener\u2019s Supply Company.\u00a0 There\u2019s no doubt that customers want a higher level of real-time personalization as they shop \u2013 a 2015 Accenture survey found that nearly 60 percent of shoppers want real-time promotions and offers. \u201cLeading retailers are using technology to serve up customized experiences and recommendations to visitors based on who they are, what they\u2019re doing and, most importantly, their intent at that moment,\u201d says Zimmerman.\u00a0\n6. Stores need to reflect local preferences and products\u00a0\nLarge retailers spent 2015 adjusting their offerings to better cater to local customer needs, hoping to keep shoppers from going to multiple stores and boosting loyalty, says Riyad Tahir, head of Xerox\u2019s Retail and Consumer Practice. This requires lots of technology adjustments to accommodate local product acquisition: \u201cMaking local products available in a big box retailer creates both labor and technology platform challenges since smaller vendors typically don\u2019t have high-end digital platforms for the administrative processes needed to deliver, check, approve and charge for, and re-stock product inventory,\u201d he explains. In addition, once stores are localized, the head office is challenged to audit, enforce and track how each store is laid out: \u201cRetailers can use video analytics and data analytics to create unique store profiles from a footprint and fixture point of view and indicate what merchandise is where \u2013 so it can be tracked and measured.\u201d\u00a0\n[Related: Retail CIOs become heroes with the help of CMOs]\u00a0\n7. Testing and learning using data is a must\u00a0\nRetailers came up with lots of ideas in 2015. Many, however, may look great on paper, but not work in practice, says Jonathan Marek of Applied Predictive Technologies, a data analytics firm that works with retailers such as Lane Bryant, Wal-Mart, Lowe\u2019s, and Staples. That\u2019s where testing and learning comes in: \u201cIn order to know which ideas will be winners and which will damage profitability, the smartest retailers are using business experiments to find their true incremental impact on profits,\u201d he says. For example, Chico\u2019s learned recently that a more aggressive promotional strategy was not profitable and Lane Bryant learned that they should merchandise sports bras and tops together but not pants. \u201cWe expect retailers to continuing testing in 2016 across new products and categories, improving the in-store experience, omnichannel strategies, targeted outreach and more,\u201d says Marek.