One of the more visible signs of changing consumer behaviors during the pandemic was the April news that Walmart is removing roughly 300 of its automated in-store pickup towers with plans to shut down another 1,300. According to a Walmart spokesperson, the reason is that customers much prefer curbside pickup.
The takeaway for retailers isn’t that an in-store kiosk is going the way of the vintage cash register, rather that consumers have an increasing number of options to interact with a brand, across physical and digital channels. In a McKinsey survey from October, 73% of US consumers said that they’ve tried a new shopping behavior since COVID-19, with roughly 80% saying that they intend to continue the behavior in the future.
Roll with Changing Behaviors with a Single View
An ability to adapt to changing behaviors requires that retailers have a single customer view, one that goes across their typical data, process and channel siloes. A single customer view combines customer data from every source, and of every type — structured, unstructured and semi-structured. It includes customer behaviors, preferences, devices and any other potential customer identifiers from email and physical addresses to phone numbers and household information.
When advanced identity resolution capabilities and real-time decisioning are applied to a single customer view, an organization is empowered to deliver a personalized, hyper-relevant experience to a customer at the precise moment of interaction on any channel.
A single customer view ensures a consistent experience that spans the entire customer journey. Curbside pickup is indicative of a modern, multichannel experience that affirms the need for a single customer view. An end-to-end curbside experience often consists of multiple devices — perhaps starting out on a laptop before moving to mobile — and entails either SMS or email notifications and updates. Typically, a customer who pulls up to the store will use a mobile device to announce their arrival, at which point a store associate becomes involved to complete the transaction.
It’s a lot of moving parts, in other words, that from the customer’s perspective must be one seamless, consistent experience. A single customer view eliminates the potential for friction that may creep into the experience if, for instance, an organization’s email marketing team lacks real-time visibility into a POS system, or for any lack of integration between systems that cloud a single customer view.
Keep Up with a Customer Through Complex, Dynamic Journeys
Customers are accustomed to brands knowing who they are across different channels, and they are increasingly less likely to tolerate failures. In a December survey from Dynata, commissioned by Redpoint, 70% of customers said that they will exclusively shop with brands that demonstrate a personal understanding. A personal understanding presupposes knowing a customer is the same individual across channels, and knowing their preferences not just from a transactional standpoint but how they like to engage (channel, frequency, etc.).
Viewed through this prism, curbside pickup is ostensibly about convenience and contactless engagement, but it’s more reflective about customers being inclined to control the customer journey. Customers expect to engage how they want, when they want, and it is incumbent on a brand to keep up with a customer’s cadence.
That, in a nutshell, is what the single customer view provides: the ability for a brand to deliver a hyper-relevant, next-best action — an offer, a notification, message, etc. — at the precise moment calculated to produce an optimal result.
Providing a personalized customer experience at scale for millions or hundreds of millions of customers does require some type of automated machine learning to intelligently orchestrate what can easily surpass billions of interactions. Customer journeys are complex and dynamic; machine learning ensures that every interaction with a customer is designed to provide a superior experience that both pleases the customer and pushes whatever business metric an organization is pursuing.
This capability, derived from the single customer view, transcends specific behaviors, preferences or channels. Maybe in a year or two the in-store kiosk becomes the runaway favorite pick-up method. Or, if you stretch your imagination, perhaps retailers will adopt super-sized pneumatic tubes to deliver packages to waiting customers (a la drive-through banks). Brands with a single customer view will be primed to engage with consistent relevance across channels regardless of whichever behavior is in vogue, segmented to the individual customer.
Change is the one thing brands can be certain of. By eliminating siloes and knowing everything there is to know about a customer with a single customer view, a brand will be prepared for anything. Change, yes. Surprises, no.
John Nash is chief marketing and strategy officer at Redpoint Global.