Putting the Pieces Together: Tips for Connecting Fragmented Data
Consumers increasingly expect an omnichannel shopping experience, and retailers are beginning to feel the urgency to respond. According to a recent Shopgate report, more than two-thirds (67 percent) of retailers now say omnichannel retailing will be a priority in 2019. Many of these omnichannel initiatives, however, will fall short of customer expectations due to one key challenge: gaps in customer data.
In today’s world of ever-evolving customer experiences, the lines between physical retail, e-commerce and mobile are blurred. Omnichannel initiatives and experiences have captured the attention (and dollars) of retailers. Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are exploring digital, virtual and augmented reality innovations in stores, while subscription services and pure-play e-commerce retailers are investing in physical spaces — bringing to life what was only available on-screen. Creating a consistent, seamless customer experience across all channels requires greater investment in technology, data infrastructure, and insights into customer behavior.
As customers ourselves in the age of Amazon.com and Netflix, we often take omnichannel for granted. For example, the ability to look up product availability online before driving to the store and picking it up curbside, doing a quick price comparison on your phone while shopping in-store, viewing expanded sizes or exclusive content, or having your loyalty rewards available at checkout are all natural extensions of the omnichannel experience. We've come to expect this level of personalization and blending of the physical and digital.
Although expectations for omnichannel are high, the execution often falls short. Blind spots in customer data and antiquated technology stacks begin to erode a retailer’s ability to deliver on the promise of a seamless shopping experience. Failing to deliver seamless omnichannel services results in frustrating customer experiences, like having to wait in line to pick up products purchased online, having to repeat your shoe size and preferences to a salesperson multiple times because of a lack of clienteling, and online loyalty program rewards and points that aren’t integrated with the in-store point-of-sale (POS) system. This creates dissonance and dissatisfaction in the customer experience, and often a fragmented data strategy is to blame.
It’s not easy for retailers to piece together a holistic view of their customer. Technology stacks have grown unwieldy while data proliferates, and the combination has proven to be a major pain point. Thousands of martech platforms vie for attention, each offering a slightly different benefit. At some companies, a department can end up using five or more different business intelligence tools — tools designed to consolidate data in the first place.
The same technology that's transforming what customer experience means has failed retailers by creating an environment that’s immensely complex and difficult to navigate. Customer data is now largely siloed in these platforms and unable to be used for omnichannel experiences.
In order to enable a 360-degree view of the customer and deliver true omnichannel experiences, data needs to be cleansed, merged, centralized and enabled across brand touchpoints. There are two emerging methods that show promise in solving this problem for retailers:
- Customer data platforms (CDPs) offer a unified customer database that acts as a single source of truth for marketers to leverage. A CDP takes all the channels used to engage a customer — customer service, in-store, social, e-commerce, etc. — and assembles a clearer picture of a customer’s behavior and quirks. Companies like Tealium, AgilOne and BlueConic are all CDPs geared toward helping retailers create that single view of the customer. Businesses can use these CDPs to personalize email communications, target segmented customers with social messaging, stock shelves with regionally popular items, predict trends, and more.
- The Open Data Initiative (ODI) presents a unique opportunity to remove blind spots and piece together a greater understanding of customers’ needs and wants. SAP, Adobe and Microsoft have all partnered under the ODI to consolidate customer data from across their various platforms. The objective is to help create better customer data transparency and enable their product end users to deliver more customized experiences. The ODI will store and consolidate data from marketing automation, enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management platforms, each of which represents a different piece of the puzzle. With the ODI, retailers will be able take even greater advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
CDPs and the ODI stand to help retailers better understand what individual consumers want and anticipate their needs. To accomplish this, a unified customer view is not only a necessity, but also a precursor to predicting customer behavior using AI and ML. It removes the guesswork and supplies the intelligence needed for omnichannel interactions. Ultimately, consumers will be better served with a frictionless customer experience tailored to them and their environments, whether physical or digital.
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Krista Gunstone is head of retail vertical and customer experience strategy at Lenati, the strategy and design division of ProKarma. Her expertise is in customer experience design, retail transformation, customer loyalty and retention. She has a decade of experience building transformative customer experiences for some of the world’s top consumer brands including Nordstrom, Nike, American Eagle, Foot Locker, REI, The North Face, Microsoft and T-Mobile. She has a proven track record of leading complex enterprise technology implementations, product launches and experience design pilots, always with a focus on driving lasting customer loyalty and long-term profitability. Her background spans industries such as retail, fashion, technology, travel and hospitality, telecom, biopharmaceutical and healthcare. Prior to joining Lenati in 2014, Krista managed brand marketing strategy for Nordstrom Inc. in Seattle, Washington.