A human data strategy could be the ultimate saviour of the retail industry

Predictions 2018: Retail

Retail is almost certainly the greatest marketing battleground of our times. Surely, there is no broader, richer or faster-moving melting-pot of consumers, products, services and data. How will this data-driven sector separate the winners from the losers in the near future? Let’s take a journey into the near future to see how data-driven marketing will separate the winners from the losers. We’ll discover it’s a very human factor that holds the key.

Today we wonder — Is the Internet of Things making brands ‘invisible’ as washing machines order washing powder without you selecting Ariel vs Persil? Is voice-based ‘Alexa-esque’ search doing similar? Outside our super-connected homes, we still enjoy visiting stores to browse, except now, you may have already done that with your Augmented Reality app. In the store, who will you interact with? Is there a check-out? Do shop assistants simply assist while you self-scan with your phone? Customer Experience (CX) is changing fast!

Visiting stores and your in-store behaviour is most likely influenced by something you’ve seen outside it, online or other. And, if you’re keen on a particular retail brand, it seems that loyalty is in some turmoil. From expecting points every time, to ‘surprise and delight’ or simply stamping a card, loyalty like retail overall, is complex; so what is going to happen, what are the predictions?

Just as books still get read despite Kindle, the single most reliable prediction is that these changes will happen and may be profound but will be less dramatic and binary than some claim. We’ll see retail-evolution rather than revolution.

  • IoT applications will help reduce the mundane retail shopping
  • AR will help us narrow our search
  • Voice-powered systems will increase convenience but most likely threaten very commoditised products
  • Stores and the browsing experience will not go away

All, of which is because of one thing, us, the human factor. Humans like to browse for things that are worth browsing for and we like to be lazy, avoiding the mundane that makes life inconvenient and so to win in the retail future, we need to get human with data.

As humans we’re all different, though, as segmentation proves, similar. This means for similar products or services, data will be the king-maker in our future retail world. Data will be what connects all of the parts of the customer experience (CX). Data the informer, data the guide, data the glue, data the deliverer, data the truth.

Data has been a part of retail for ages and we’re set for ever more data, more noise and a collision course with GDPR. A true data strategy that works hand in glove with the business and marketing strategies is mission critical for a great CX. CX, the net sum of all that happens ‘before, during and after’ and it is this: Identification, Understanding and Engagement of the human factor through data, that will determine success; not forgetting Measurement, otherwise how do you know you’re winning, losing or standing still?

These are the critical controls and dials in the marketing cockpit that matter most; let’s look closer.

Identity (resolution) is not just about managing personally identifiable information, but also about pseudonymisation, i.e. resolving previously anonymous digital identities of people, being able to treat more customers as individuals whether they’re online, logged in or not, or indeed standing in front of you in your store.

Understanding customers in today’s new data economy is a huge opportunity and responsibility combined. Data collaboration, data sharing and seeing first party (a brand’s own data) as a product are all ways retailers can bring together the most accurate, most meaningful data. Brands will need help in the form of safe-haven approaches to combine and share data with other organisations in privacy-safe ways.

Similarly, the single customer view is changing as fast as retail itself. Data silos have been an issue for decades frustrating our ability to put the customer at the heart of marketing. If anything, silos are getting worse; we just can’t help ourselves! However, with help, marketers can follow neutral, open approaches to integrating technology at the customer data level, centering on identity. This is the best approach to identifying and understanding customers across the retail ecosystem.

Engaging customers in the future will mean retailers will need to reach consumers wherever they are, for real; across the whole customer journey regardless of channel or device. Retailers must be able to can apply their insights as and when customers present themselves. Here, connectivity solutions are required to take PII-based and pseudonymous insights to wherever the customer is. No customer likes seeing a display ad for a product they’ve already bought at a higher price.

Finally, Measurement, the elephant in the room here. This ‘holy grail’ is something marketers have desired for years but is also something they’ve set to one side, thinking it’s just too difficult. Not true. By connecting online and offline data through identity resolution, marketers can understand what’s working well, not so well or failing fast to make hay, course correct or abandon ship.

When it comes to this intersection of humans, data and technology, retail is undoubtedly the most exciting ‘battleground’ there is. As we go forward and the hyperbole abates, it’s more likely retail will evolve and enhance our retail CX. Humans want to enjoy the exploration and browsing aspects of shopping; and want to avoid the mundane and inconvenient. This, coupled with the fact there are so many kinds of retailers and the fact that we’re all individuals, means data is the ultimate connector and enabler.

Get data right to get the retail right, which means: a data strategy that ‘humanises’ customer data; promotes identity in privacy safe ways; activates integrates and curates the most powerful and relevant data to deepen customer understanding; a strategy that connects the data across the whole data ecosystem and one that can connect the worlds of online and offline to measure the real customer experience and results.

Lisa Packe, UK Sales Director, Acxiom.

Join Acxiom at The Drum's Predictions Breakfast on 25 January.

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