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Customer-centric retail isn't about touchpoints and devices - it's about data

11th Nov 2014
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There is a new emphasis amongst retailers on offering customer-centric experiences. This is a significant development because, for a long time now, retailers have been talking about the service they provide in terms of channels and devices.

Consumers don’t think in channels or touchpoints though, they think simply of the brand and expect their experience of it to be the same, whether they shop online or offline. Retailers need to provide this joined up customer experience because, as consumers are no longer buying from just one touchpoint, they are likely to take a longer journey to purchase. In line with these changing media consumption habits, retailers are now moving their focus back to the customer, to offer them a seamless, integrated shopping experience.

Although shoppers today move from device to store as part of their decision to buy, their opinion of a brand is based on the overall experience and this is what retailers need to concentrate on delivering. In line with this holistic approach, responsibility for customer experience now lies with everyone within a retail organisation. Retailers no longer want to work in silos and each component should work together to offer one consistent experience to shoppers.

Responsibility for this customer experience covers many areas within retail businesses; from offering the ability to purchase across a variety of channels, to driving loyalty and retention. This has resulted in a complicated layer of software and processes that can limit a retailer’s ability to meet customers’ demands for a seamless experience. This web of multichannel software includes key systems such as ecommerce, content management (CMS), product lifecycle management (PLM), as well as a plethora of digital marketing tools.

Each of these systems plays a key role in customer experience, but each is dedicated to a specific channel or business activity. It’s crucial that all of these systems are aligned to create a seamless experience. Companies need to look deeply at the systems that drive the business in order to provide the best possible experience. Building a foundation layer of essential systems can provide retailers with a comprehensive, accurate and consistent source of data to better enable this seamless experience for customers.

The foundation of customer-centricity

The foundation layer is a set of core technologies and to support the demands of 21st-century retail, it’s important that these components are flexible and scalable. These digital architectures must be able to adapt for retailers’ needs quickly, and stay aligned so that the system works as a whole.

Businesses shouldn’t have to constantly update these core systems though. Often the proof that these systems have been well chosen is that staff will hardly be aware of them. Technology choices have to be made for the long term, with the expectation that, a decade down the line, these systems will still be in place. The need for flexibility here needs to be tempered by the need for core systems to be robust and reliable.

One scenario that is causing retailers to adapt their systems is that shoppers are starting to purchase in new ways. For example, the launch of the recent Apple Watch means that retailers may have to very soon allow people to purchase through this tiny screen. Digital technologies drive change in consumer behaviour, and therefore force retailers to look at how to serve customers across new touchpoints.

The role of data is very important here, as the customer experiences retailers are serving are highly data driven. For example, retailers need to understand whether smartwatches are likely to be a touchpoint where conversions happen or, if not, where those customers will look next, so that the brand can lead the shopper there. Retailers now have more detailed information than ever before about their customers. This information is critical in driving targeted offers and promotions, but also in informing the experience that customers are looking for. As more insights become available, in the future, retailers’ understanding of consumer behaviour will reach new heights so that they can anticipate even more about what consumers want to buy, and when to send offers so that customers are receptive.

In order to do this effectively, it’s crucial that brands manage their data and ensure that it’s accurate and consistent. However, many retailers are still faced with the challenge of where to get that data from and questioning how reliable it is. One common problem is that if information about numerous purchases is held in several different parts of the company and solutions, it is very challenging to deliver the consistent but personalised experience that consumers want. Having that data in one place makes it much easier to manage, so a master data management system can aid in this process. This detailed data, which is easy to access, allows retailers to save time and money, as well as allowing them to be confident in its accuracy and timeliness.

Overall, to succeed today and offer the customer experience that shoppers are truly craving, brands need to reduce friction between channels, and deliver consistent and personalised customer experiences. Quite simply, unless the underlying systems that retailers use are robust yet flexible, businesses won’t be able to deliver this experience and, unless the data in these systems is accurate and consistent, retailers will encounter problems. In line with consumer trends today, brands must offer customer-centric retail, but the core technologies must be in place to ensure that those integrated customer experiences can really rise from the ashes again.

Simon Walker is director of innovation at Stibo Systems.

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