Retailing and data: A top 10 checklist for how to lead your customers

Der Einkaufswagen-Strichcode

Retailers today are rightly focusing on creating a seamless service across every single consumer touch point. It goes by many clichéd names including omni-channel and multi-channel retail. It’s not easy. There is the obvious part of requiring front ends that delight customers across mobile (with all its various guises and screen sizes), laptops/desktops, stores, brochures and catalogues. On top of that, all the back office systems, databases, warehousing and associated logistics all need to be coordinated; combined with motivating retailer teams to act as one. After all, as Dixons’ CEO Sebastian James said at a suppliers conference last year:

It’s all just retail now”.

Quite simply, it’s the way that things have to be done to succeed. So let’s take it as a given that those retailers that continue to take cash from our increasingly digital wallets will provide a seamless retail experience.

As a retailer, if you are on your way to achieving “omni-channel” success, maybe you are feeling that it’s time for a congratulatory “pat on the back”. But hold on, you have really only just made it to base camp. The reality is that all you have done is belatedly caught up with your customers and are using the same retail skills, albeit across more touch points. It’s now time to start moving up to that rarified air, where breathing is harder, but the opportunity significant.

How do you get ahead of your consumers and truly lead them?

The answer lies in the data that flows through retailers today. What started as trickle is now rapidly turning into a sustained deluge and yet few retailers are really on top of it.

Here is a snap shot of the data flowing through a typical retailer: sales data (where, when, how much?), consumer usage and behaviour data (which touch points, in what order, where did the consumer come from and go to, how many pages were looked at, how long was spent at each stage?), customer service team data, social media data, consumer generated content, loyalty scheme data. I could go on.

Why isn’t more being done with this data?

Much of that data sits in different places and within different departments. What’s more, if you think about the roles and skill sets within a typical retailer – even one that is getting to grips with today’s digital reality – not many individuals have the right skills to really get into the data. Retailers need to start taking a hard look at their teams, bringing in data scientists and those comfortable in a world of machine learning. Initially, they will seem like significant costs.

The real opportunity for retailers is to mine, analyse and act on that data to truly understand their consumers, starting to personalise their relationship with their customers and get one step ahead. When I say understand their customers, I don’t mean old school socio-demographics (though that’s important), I am talking about their behaviours, intents and lifestyles. It goes way beyond behavioural retargeting. I know some retailers will roll their eyes because they have heard it all before, with words like “big data” and “predictive analytics” already over-hyped.

Think about it, when all this data is available, why do consumers still receive generic catalogues and brochures, with all the associated costs of production and delivery. Why not send a customised, lighter version that appeals to an individual’s needs – because you have taken the time to get know your customers. Not only will they increase sales, they will reduce your costs. All your consumer touch points will need to have the ability to be tailored to the consumer, throughout a truly personalised journey. That way you are leading your customers.

How does a retailer start to attack this world of data?

Here is a top 10 check-list for retailers to start taking advantage of all that data:

1. Take a hard look at your teams. If you don’t have the data expertise in house, get some.
2. Make sure your data team is able to cut across any internal silos to access that data. They need to have a mandate from the top.
3. Understand all the data sources available.
4. Create a vision of what your retail future might look like in 5 years time, powered by the data available to you. (Don’t be too wedded it to though, much will change in 6 months…)
5. Start to play with the data. Looking at slices across different aspects of the customer journey. Create a series of hypotheses and scenarios based on that data.
6. Do not boil the ocean – it will be extremely easy to do – but you will quickly drown.
7. Start to A-B test in small parts of your business (that won’t cause the ship to sink). It doesn’t have to be perfectly built; clunky back ends are fine here. Whatever happens, you must analyse the results.
8. As a result of that testing, start to flesh out a short-term road map.
9. Survey the available software market out there. Can you use existing platforms and tools, customising on top of them?
10. Start to implement based on the results of your testing. Measure, analyse and iterate, continually repeating 7 to 10, codifying and automating whatever you can.

It won’t be easy, there are numerous suppliers out there and each claiming their solution is the nirvana to the future. As a retailer, you first step needs to be to start building internal expertise comfortable in a world of data. Don’t hesitate, start now.

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