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What do your customers really look like?

28th Oct 2021
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Getting that elusive single customer view

Most retailers have a broad idea of who their customers are – generally, it’s a fairly fuzzy picture based on stock movement and the results of any surveys they may have carried out, coupled with a ‘feeling’ based on brand identity.

A lot of retailers seem to base major business decisions on this – who they think their customers are and what they think they want, rather than anything founded in solid evidence. And the real stats around who can truly claim to have a single customer view are shocking – according to a recent report by Experian, a staggering 92% of companies do not have access to one, because they have so many touchpoints with fragmented and siloed data.

You can see a good example of the deceptiveness of surface information if you take a look at  YouGov’s profiles. Search for any major retailer and YouGov will aggregate information to tell you what appears to be lots of things about their customers - the typical Sainsbury’s shopper is supposedly:

  • Female, aged 55+
  • Loves visiting restaurants and cafes
  • Likes to make friends with people who have common interests
  • Is a fan of TV news
  • Listens to pop music

While this is interesting, and it can be fun to compare profiles across retailers, it doesn’t actually offer much of use from a business perspective. Companies using this kind of information to build a customer view are only looking at a small, superficial part of the picture – one which might work for a marketing campaign, but won’t make any lasting difference to the bottom line.

The stats that matter

What really matters – and what should inform business decisions over and above customers’ external lifestyle choices – is actual, measurable numbers based on real customer behaviour throughout the retailer’s channels rather than what they choose to share in surveys. For example:

  • What the customer last bought
  • How they prefer to shop – online, in-store, via mobile?
  • Where they prefer to shop – in store, in front of the TV, as part of an organised shopping spree?
  • What’s their average spend?
  • Do they use offers and coupons?
  • Do they have a wishlist/have they browsed online for anything?
  • Do they use click and collect?
  • Are there any times of year when they prefer to buy – birthdays, Christmas, other milestones?

To get a single customer view – one which unites all customer information about every facet of their shopping behaviour and brings the picture into sharp relief – you need to harmonise your data. The good news is that you undoubtedly already have it, hidden away on legacy systems and in business silos, waiting to be retrieved and put to work.

Gathering together information from every part of the business, from sales to operations to logistics, is a daunting and frequently off-putting task for many retailers. But being able to crack each systems nut and get to the kernel of data is central to providing the kind of service customers expect. Using cloud-based commercial services and connecting ‘layers’ such as API orchestrators opens up even the most locked-down legacy systems – simple, fast and accessible, these are key to overcoming business objections to implementation. Once the data is freed from constraints, it can be exploited to provide an almost endless flow of intelligence, including:

  • Personalised customer service based on wishlists, purchase history, ordering etc
  • Sales and promotional information on a store-by-store basis
  • Analysis of sales staff performance
  • Real-time stock and delivery updates

Above all, customers want relevant, consistent experiences that make their lives easier – whether this is having their click-and-collect order ready when they enter a store, allowing them to order online from the shop floor or getting expert advice from a store associate to help them make a choice. It’s just not possible to offer this kind of service without having one cohesive view of the customer, provided by the data behind every business activity. In-depth information needs to be brought from its traditional back-office position to its rightful place at the very front of retail strategy - only then will you have a useful single customer view across all channels.

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