CTO Red Ant
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Data: Retailers must resist the big bang approach

10th Apr 2017
CTO Red Ant
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Connected data

For most retailers, the first wave of in-store digital experience (kiosks, signage and connected POS, as well as customer applications used in-store) is coming to the end of its cycle, and they’re looking to upgrade to the next generation of tech-enabled retail experiences.

Mobile was, until more recently than most people think, considered a ‘fringe’ channel. But it played an important part in driving the development of APIs, which are key to cross-channel data connectivity and will be the bedrock on which the new experiences will be built.

IT departments now face the challenge of keeping up with customer demand for personalisation and unique, VIP experiences without creating risk to existing systems or overextending budgets to support and maintain them. To overcome ‘legacy’ thinking and meet this challenge head on, today’s retail experiences need to be built on a pragmatic approach to data integration and a commitment to incremental benefits rather than the ‘big bangs’ demanded by earlier strategies:

  • Innovation projects need to be cost-effective so that budget holders are happy to sign them off, and delivered quickly so that they don’t become outdated or fall behind what competitors and customers are doing.
  • It’s vital not to reinvent the wheel on every project – it’s time-consuming and an inefficient use of resources. Using pre-built applications and integrations wherever possible reduces budgets and timescales.
  • Dedicated retail platforms enable continuous development on top of what already exists and provide a safe way to control access to important systems and data by acting as a middle layer.
  • Built-in analytics provide continuous insight and data to justify business cases and identify failures and successes.
  • Cloud delivery and multi-purpose devices enable small scale pilots, multi-variant testing and more regular release schedules.

Practical steps for retailers

While it’s clear that retailers need to take action and connect their data across all channels to deliver the kind of experiences expected by increasingly-sophisticated customers, the reluctance of many of them to get involved suggests that, when it comes to building a viable strategy for connecting data to facilitate tech-enabled next generation experiences, many simply don’t know where to start. Fortunately, there are a number of steps to take which can kick off data integration and with it innovation:

  • Integrate back-end, online and in-store data.
    • Map out all the necessary steps for integration and data sources and build a roadmap for implementation.
    • Divide integrations into ‘good enough’ for a pilot and enterprise grade, and build accordingly – having a pilot with integration or data sets which aren’t 100% perfect is better than not having a pilot at all.
    • Plan to capture new data as well as reuse existing data – it flows both ways and provides useful information at every stage, even if you won’t use it until a future phase.
  • Use information to close the gap between sales colleagues and customers.
    • It can be very effective and relatively inexpensive to simply channel shift existing data and processes that are already in use in the business (using recommendations from the website in the store, for example).
    • At the very minimum, ensure that sales colleagues have access to the same data as customers – product pages, reviews, pricing, social media, etc.
    • Democratise access to information across departments and between headquarters and stores rather than restricting analytics to analytics teams.
    • Focus on creating seamlessness for the customer and for the sales colleague – they shouldn’t be able to see where one data stream ends and another begins.
  • Build personalised experiences based on historic and real-time data.
    • Look at existing assets such digital signage and ask how can they be made more reactive, more personalised or more engaging through personalisation.

Once these steps are underway, retailers will be in a position to hit the ground running with engaging in-store experiences using cross-business, customer-based intelligence. Provided they take the lead from customers and ensure they are always solving a real problem for them and incorporate real-life usage and user feedback early on in the process, their next generation retail experiences will benefit not only the customer but the business and sales colleagues as well.


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