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Customer Experience Artificial Intelligence Open Mic

How AI and customer intelligence will finally make omnichannel a retail reality

By Melanie Gerik, industry partner, retail & consumer goods



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May 28, 2024 | 6 min read

For The Drum's Retail Focus Week, Acxiom's Melanie Gerik (industry partner, retail & consumer goods) looks at how AI is transforming omnichannel retail from a disjointed multichannel reality to a seamless, personalized experience. Read on for actionable insights on leveraging customer intelligence and staying ahead in this rapidly developing area.

A shopping trolley containing bank notes next to a laptop, representing omnichannel customer service in the retail sector

You’d be hard pressed to find two more overused buzzwords than artificial intelligence (AI) and omnichannel. But when retailers put these two ubiquitous topics together? That’s when the magic starts to happen. There are exciting times ahead as AI finally makes omnichannel retail a reality.

The promise of omnichannel retail

The concept of omnichannel retail experiences is nothing new. Retailers have long sought to provide shoppers with seamless, fully connected interactions regardless of the channel via which they choose to browse or buy.

So far, however, few execute this really well. Instead of the omnichannel dream, most retailers are stuck in a multichannel model where they market and sell via disconnected online and offline touchpoints. They rely on campaigns being designed to deliver consistent messaging, but their interactions are disjointed and don’t take into account how the individual shopper is navigating the retail experience.

AI-enabled experiences in an evolving space

AI is set to change all this. It allows retailers to get smarter about how they engage with people – understanding where shoppers are on the purchase journey, predicting what they need, and tailoring the experience accordingly. AI also overcomes resource limitations, enabling the execution of thousands of creative variations for truly one-to-one interactions.

But all this is only possible when AI has a strong foundation of data and identity – in other words when it is fueled by customer intelligence. Customer intelligence is fully connected data that delivers a single customer view. It allows retailers to understand the people they are interacting with, and to apply that understanding in a meaningful way.

Most retailers recognize the need to use data to fix disjointed experiences. Customer expectations continue to rise, and personalization is required to build trust.

What’s more, the retail landscape is constantly evolving. The convergence of commerce and marketing in areas such as social commerce and shoppable ads is one example. Another is the reinvention of how shopping feels in the physical space, with retailers bringing digital elements to in-store shopping to create ‘phygital’ experience (think virtual assistants advising on in-store purchases). Both of these trends require deep, data-driven customer understanding.

Moving ahead with customer intelligence

Despite understanding the need for customer intelligence, few retailers really know how to use it. So, what can they do to reach the point where they can fuel AI and make omnichannel a reality?

The steps retailers should take depend where they are on the path to customer intelligence maturity. Our research reveals that while 90% of brands have started the journey, only 4% are already able to use customer intelligence to gain a competitive advantage. The vast majority only have pockets of insight and are using data solely for rear-view measurement. There’s a long way to go to achieve real-time, predictive, innovation-focused customer intelligence, with use cases fully aligned to business value.

Here are four actions retailers can take today to move forward with customer intelligence and support AI-enabled omnichannel experiences:

1. Ensure there’s a board-level sponsor

A board-level champion can get buy-in for customer intelligence and articulate what the organization wants to achieve with it. They can push for greater integration, and ultimately embed insights into boardroom decision making. Perhaps most importantly, they can ensure there is a dedicated budget for customer intelligence and grow it to enable a culture of innovation.

2. Build a comprehensive data set

Bringing data together, using an enterprise data management platform and an advanced identity solution, achieves a single, coherent view of shoppers. Then a data audit can reveal any gaps. Retailers should establish the right value exchange for their first-party data, being clear what data will be used for, asking customers for their permission, and then following through. They can then bolster this with high quality second- and third-party data.

3. Increase analytics sophistication

Most retailers have a basic toolkit of conventional, reactive analytics. They should look for opportunities to apply advanced, predictive analytics – building on the view of what has happened with a view of what will happen. Based on those future scenarios, they can make decisions across product development, supply chain, and customer service, as well as marketing.

4. Assess infrastructure and support

Retailers should ensure their tech stack is up to date and cloud based, allowing collaborative access to customer data across the organization. Ultimately, they should work towards an entirely automated workflow from data gathering and ingestion to analysis and activation. They should also establish a core, multidisciplinary team to drive standardization and maintain quality. There’s potential to work with partners to make the most of in-demand skills and expertise.

It’s nothing new, but true omnichannel experiences – that meet shoppers where they are and offer meaningful, personalized interactions – are still the retail dream. Only now AI enables retailers to turn it into reality. With a strong foundation of customer intelligence, the dream is well within reach.

Learn more about Acxiom’s retail marketing solutions.

Customer Experience Artificial Intelligence Open Mic

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Acxiom® is the global leader in customer intelligence and stands at the forefront of AI-enabled, data-driven marketing. As part of the Interpublic Group of Companies,...

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