As customer experience continues to define retail success, brands and marketers must audit their “customer experience toolkits” regularly to ensure they're equipped to meet today’s high consumer expectations. One often overlooked but significant tool is the ability to engage with consumers in the exact right way at the exact right time, before the opportunity vanishes. The business impact of leaving timing to chance is real — 63 percent of consumers claim that waiting impacts their relationship with the brand responsible and drives them to competitors.
Large brands are adding complexity to the landscape with new omnichannel strategies that include buy online, pick up in-store offerings where the need for the synchronizing of online and in-store inventory is required for customer satisfaction. Consumer transactions happen quickly, and it’s imperative that retailers and marketers take advantage of the opportunities that come with the rise of real-time retail experiences.
What is Real Time?
Real time in retail can be defined as the actual time during which a transaction occurs. For this process to be seamless, input data must be processed within milliseconds so that it's available immediately for analysis and resulting actions. The goal for any real-time-related function is to ultimately provide consumers with the most current, valuable and accurate information as quickly as possible.
The problem that many marketers face is that they're complicit with near real-time transactions, which leaves their relationships with customers vulnerable. A recent Gartner study found that most businesses are slow to advance in data and analytics. The study revealed that a shocking 91 percent of organizations haven't yet reached a "transformational" level of maturity in data and analytics, despite this being a priority for many executives. Now more than ever, it's critical for retailers and marketers to employ these technologies to maintain customer loyalty.
The Impact of Data Lag
Although the definition of real time may vary from brand to brand, a new study about the business impact of untimely brand offers and transactions found that consumers are clear about the fact that to them, real time means immediate. About 52 percent of respondents agreed that waiting — even for a few seconds — for something that they expected instantaneously can negatively impact their relationship with a brand. With this in mind, it’s essential that brands cater to the customer’s understanding of real time and employ the necessary technologies to ensure that their services occur immediately and accurately.
For example, a customer shops at a department store and receives an alert via mobile for a coupon soon after they leave the store. This is due to the near real-time processing “speed” of the brand’s marketing platform. In this case, both the customer and the store miss out on an opportunity and it’s highly likely the customer feels frustrated, leaving the brand vulnerable to the customer moving to a competitor or even an unpleasant shout-out on social media.
Bottom line: real time matters.
Opportunity for Growth
Near real time can hurt your brand, but properly executed real-time transactions can actually drive growth for your business. If your brand’s target audience is millennials, there’s good news. This demographic is most receptive to timely and relevant digital offers. About two-thirds of respondents in this group said that they had taken advantage of a real-time offer from a retailer, whereas only 49 percent of Gen X and 33 percent of baby boomers can say the same.
Regardless of age, one thing is clear: any business that doesn’t adapt to today’s digital world of instant access is risking not just customer loyalty, but brand reputation (for starters). With technology readily available to empower companies to react in real time, there's no reason any company should miss an opportunity due to timing.
Madhup Mishra is the vice president of product marketing at VoltDB, a provider of an in-memory SQL database.
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