The Journey to Real Time: 5 Steps for Retail Marketers

Today’s consumers want and expect information in real time. Many retailers are saddled with outdated technology that hinders their ability to interact with consumers in a timely manner. The following five steps can help retailers overcome this obstacle, incorporate real-time communications and improve their overall marketing strategy:

Step 1: Define what you’re going to do in real time. This discussion should begin with a high-level return on investment conversation and development of a strategy road map. Consider the tangible benefits. For example, will providing a real-time e-receipt as a customer walks out of your store create more opportunities for upsell vs. emailing it the next day? The goal is to improve measurable results and enhance the brand experience by empowering consumers with greater access to information.

Step 2: Understand your real-time readiness. Work with your marketing and IT teams to understand what your current capabilities are. Does your marketing and IT staff have the ability to create and support real-time technology? Do your stores have reliable internet connectivity? Is your point-of-sale system web enabled? How customizable is your call-center software? Can you work around current technology limitations through other means by using tablet devices in-store? Answering these questions will help you gauge your current capabilities and determine your future technology and resource needs.

Step 3: Create a centralized real-time database. All of the information required to interact with consumers in real time needs to be stored in a centralized location. This includes name, address, email, stated preferences, transaction history, offers and coupons. Your database will need to be architected so that it’s accessible through various channels or devices — i.e., use a service-oriented architecture.

Step 4: Build a preference center. Today’s consumers like to dictate where, how, why and what communication they receive. Your preference center should let consumers tell you specific products or services that are of interest to them, how frequently they’d like to be communicated with and through what channels they prefer to receive this information. The user-friendly center should empower consumers to share relevant information because simplicity is key. Finally, be sure the preference center is mobile enabled for digital consumers who access it on their smartphone or tablet.

Step 5: Define and implement other integration channels. After you’ve set up a centralized repository and preference center, focus on adding additional channels and functionality. Push real-time emails, integrate your call center to be able to change preferences and leverage social channels to push special offers. You can also augment your consumer information by administering surveys across channels, adding real-time data overlays and using a real-time decisioning engine to present more relevant offers and content.

In order to be consumer centric, relevant and to create the best possible brand experience, retailers need to provide real-time, personalized, one-to-one communications with consumers based on action and data.

Dan DeZutter is vice president of marketing technologies at Epsilon. Dan can be reached at

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