For many consumers across the world, scouring empty shelves at retailers has become all too familiar over the last 18 months. During the pandemic, retailers small and large experienced exponential demand through their online platforms while in-store volumes sank, leaving many with making the decision to use their stores as distribution centers. Given the vaccine rollout earlier this year prompting the lift of numerous COVID-19 restrictions and a return to in-person shopping, it’s high time for retailers to evaluate their in-store and digital practices and the underlying business structures that contribute to them. In today’s environment, retailers can no longer afford to treat in-store and online as separate business units. Instead, businesses need to break down those silos so that the two sides act as a single unit with unified goals.
In bringing data from the two sides together and leveraging third-party data such as demographics, foot traffic, and road traffic, businesses will be able to better predict unique merchandising needs at individual stores as well as online demand. Those data points will ensure that retailers have a grasp on supply while helping them put a finger on rapidly evolving consumer tendencies, information that will be crucial as they work to personalize experiences to each shopper.
Tapping into personalization to spur better customer experiences
The evolution of the retail environment, most recently influenced by the pandemic, has left shoppers demanding a more sophisticated and personalized experience. In response, retailers are left with an urgency to quickly shift their targeting practices across all mediums.
Throughout the last 18 months, one thing has become very clear: baseline ways of segmenting customers no longer cut it. Companies targeting customers based solely on demographics such as where they live, or their age should re-evaluate—and then take a step (or a few) further. A customer’s likes, dislikes, their past experiences shopping with your company and competitors, what they are saying about the product on social—all of it and more can help inform targeted advertising toward the individual consumer.
A key component to ensuring a complete view of the customer is leveraging third-party repositories. My work as Deloitte’s National Google Cloud Practice Leader has proven just how powerful this can be, as our joint Deloitte and Google Cloud teams work to cleanse and aggregate data to meet retailers’, and therefore customers’, needs. In a world mostly built on cloud infrastructure, we’re able to set retailers up with customer data platforms (CDPs) to harness Google’s informational prowess toward understanding their customers better. For instance, retailers can gain regional understanding of search patterns; meaning, at any given time, they’re able to understand which products customers are searching for in specific cities, states, and countries. Enabled by the cloud, pairing these real-time insights with a retailer’s knowledge of a customer can provide the data foundation companies need for digital transformation.
No approach to personalization is complete without pulling the information into a unified profile. Doing so allows retailers to get a full, 360-degree view of a customer—how they shop, where they’re spending their money—so you can draw the right conclusions, make data-backed decisions, and personalize an experience down to the individual, driving a more intelligent spend while allowing you to gain accurate insights on expected ROI. Unified profiles are also advantageous post-sale, allowing companies to create loyalty programs that work—and keep customers coming back.
A more connected digital and in-person experience
The reality is that the pandemic forced many retailers to scramble, popping up online stores and fulfillment centers that were just good enough to get by. The catalytic event has forged a new frontier: creating one unified customer experience across every touchpoint, an achievement that will require breaking down siloes within organizations. As businesses shift their infrastructure, fundamental to success will be their ability to task leadership not with thinking about profit and loss at individual stores, but rather in tandem with the online experience.
There are many ways retailers are melding the digital and in-person experience, some more advanced than others. Many retailers are allowing people to “travel” between online and in-store experiences, by either continuing an order in-person that was started online or picking up in-store or curbside after placing an online order, just one of several common pandemic practices that will be here to stay.
These practices come with challenges—as many retailers who’ve wound up with empty shelves during these early months of the reopening have experienced first-hand. As society reopens, retailers who embrace new customer appetites, break down their company silos, and create dynamic customer experiences spurred by data and personalization will be set up to excel in the future of retail.
-Kashif Rahamatullah, National Google Cloud Practice and Alliance Leader, Deloitte