Over the past decade, as customers’ demands have changed, in-store sales have declined, and shareholder pressure has risen, many retailers have turned to data as a way to survive an increasingly cut-throat industry.
But turning to data means nothing if you don’t also understand how to use it to your advantage.
To that end, Domo and customer-experience specialists One Connected Community (OCC) hosted 17 senior retail leaders in London last month for a thought-provoking, interactive workshop on all things retail, data and digital.
What follows are my takeaways from each of the four main points of discussion.
1 – Meeting Customer Needs
According to a recent study by Accenture, nearly all consumers (91%) are still more likely to shop with brands that provide them with relevant offers and recommendations.
For that reason, more retailers are attempting to treat data as a critical asset. However, for many, organizing the data remains a key challenge.
“(Nowadays) customer journeys start anywhere and end anywhere,” said Charles de Clerck, Business Engagement Manager – Customer IT at Waitrose & Partners, “and tracking that is really complex.”
So how do you make that problem less burdensome?
“Rather than saying what is a single view of the customer, the way we have approached it is to say how do we want to frame the conversation with the customer, and therefore what is that view of the customer?” said Anisha Patel, Customer & Commercial IT for Premier Inn & Restaurants.
In other words, forget about how much data is available and focus instead on the data that matters.
2 – Overcoming Legacy Challenges
For many retailers, overcoming the challenges of legacy systems is still difficult.
“As a mature retailer, we have multiple legacy systems in-store and online and we collect a lot of data,” said Chloe Kerner, Digital Strategy Manager at Debenhams. “The challenge for us is stitching everything together to create a cohesive view of our customer.”
Others in the room echoed that sentiment. One even took it one step further.
“We often focus on customer data,” said Titus Trossel, Senior Strategy Manager at Dixons Carphone. “But a big failure of a lot of retail companies is not having the right, accurate real-time view of stock across either stores or online, and then being able to join that up with customer data.”
Workshop participants acknowledged that retailers must win at every interaction the customer has with the organization. Therefore, every department must play its part in a coordinated fashion.
Waitrose has addressed that issue by putting in place a customer-focused group that joins up different silos.
“We now have an organizational structure that supports looking at the customer journey in its totality,” de Clerck said. “We have a digital structure that sits right across the business.”
3 – Creating a Reason to Visit
Another significant challenge that remains for retailers is how to balance their offline and online customer experiences.
From an offline perspective, many retailers are now using in-store design to tell their stories, define how unique they are, and showcase the products they sell.
Some are trying to differentiate themselves by offering in-store experiences, such as cooking classes, beauty concierges, yoga, etc.
As shoppers today expect personalization and dynamic encounters, retailers are also responding with interactive displays and mixed reality demos.
Such experiences not only create deep interactions with the consumers, they provide a feedback loop with intelligence on consumer needs and wants.
For many, offering interesting in-store experiences works well, but for others it presents new challenges.
“We know our customers very well and they get special services and treatment in-store,” said Melody Mijnen, Head of Customer Marketing & CRM at Selfridges. “But how do you translate this to the online environment, especially in light of increasing competition?
It was concluded that it’s a good idea to measure both hard and soft data. Brands can check social media activity, for example, as the types of experiences offered in-store tend to be what people like to share on social media.
4 – Evolving Company Cultures
While agility and innovation have been lacking in the retail space—“many (retailers) question if they’ve got the money to lose,” admitted Simon Webdale, Retail Operations Manager at Sainsbury’s and Specsavers—they are not pie-in-the-sky organizational descriptors.
“We are moving towards a completely agile model for our development teams, allowing us to develop high quality products at pace and in line with other market-leading digital/online companies,” said Neal Patel, Gaming Business Change Manager at William Hill.
However, even if you’re willing to make a financial commitment to transformation, there are other issues to consider.
“It comes back to the culture, and the culture of the board,” de Clerck said. “Amazon are risk-takers, and that company culture needs to exist.”
So how might retailers overcome some of the barriers that prevent them from being able to rapidly adapt and rival some of the big technology players?
“Agile is sometimes seen as a buzzword,” Anisha Patel said. “But the principles that sit underneath it are really important, as they are what’s needed to change company culture.”
As customers demand a more engaging retail experience and personalized service, 2019 is likely to continue to see increased competitive pressure and accelerated digital upheavals.
Embracing the need to innovate and look at ways to create a unique experience that resonates with customers will help differentiate each retailer from their competitors.
However, in order to truly compete in the year ahead, retailers should not only prioritize having the right systems in place to access their data (Domo Retail Suite, anyone?), they should focus on organizing their businesses—namely their people and processes—around that data.
In addition, retailers need to take a hard look at why specific initiatives are failing to gain traction, and, in some cases, what actions must be taken to reduce the barriers to business adoption.
The amount of data continues to rise in the world of retail (and society as a whole), so the need for data-driven organizations and cultures isn’t going away.
“People talk about our online experience or our offline experience,” said Alex Henry, Head of Customer Engagement and Transformation for Domo. “But in the future, it will be a digitally connected experience and that will be one thing: Your customer will simply be connected.”