The Joy of Data: How Brick-and-Mortars Can Leverage Analytics this Season


Holiday shopping is in full swing for e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailers, both of which are, once again, heading into another atypical holiday shopping season. Research shows while e-commerce will be significant again this year, shoppers largely plan to head into stores for their holiday needs.

Many people going into stores will participate in what’s termed revenge shopping — a phenomenon in which consumers on a hiatus from shopping in physical stores last year plan to make up for it this year.

What does this mean? Take increased foot traffic, the global supply chain crisis and labor shortages and add in the ongoing pressure to keep customers safe while turning a profit during peak season – it seems we’ve embarked upon another unpredictable holiday season. All while trying to deliver great customer experience (CX) — a seemingly unwinnable battle, right?

[See also: Cyber Monday Sales On Track For Flat Year]

The good news is with the right technology strategy in place, retailers can leverage the most critical tool at their disposal — data — to maximize their tech stack, enhance CX and ensure the employees they have aren’t overworked.

Here are a few actionable ways retailers can use data to their advantage to ensure customers can make the most of their in-store trips.

Clean Up Your Databases

Data is useless if it’s not well maintained and organized. When data is scattered (siloed) across a variety of departments, it’s impossible to send customers relevant messaging that could draw them into your stores. Quality data trumps quantity every single time. As such, it’s crucial to identify and replace incomplete, inaccurate, irrelevant or otherwise problematic data and records.

Therefore, ensure your company manicures its databases so data collected is useful and actionable. What was a shopper drawn to during peak season 2020? What other items have they purchased since? You can use that data to send relevant messaging and personalized deals that can help entice him or her back into your store this year.

Take Stock In What You Know

Going beyond historical data, since most consumers have started their holiday shopping earlier, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Proper Insights & Analytics, consider evaluating data from the start of Q4 to date — both in-store and online  to help shape the remainder of peak season.

A great place to start is with your in-store retail technology that includes self-checkouts and point-of-sale (POS) systems. They contain a treasure trove of customer information you can use to trend map the remainder of peak season. For example, what is being bought in-store vs. online, other items in their cart that might be sold well together, and further, what’s going fast and may sell out by Thanksgiving. If the data predicts a shortage for a popular product, can you order something similar to satisfy consumer demand?

Another key behavior to look at is buy online pickup in store (BOPIS)/curbside delivery.  These click-and-collect shopping methods understandably spiked during the height of the pandemic but continue on due to their convenience. Studies show these methods more than doubled in 2020 and will sustain double-digit growth through 2024. Understanding these trends can help retailers staff accordingly — as in, you might need more workers fulfilling click-and-collect orders while ensuring adequate in-store coverage as well.

Data can also help you determine if the same early birds are back or whether certain consumers are shopping later this year. Knowing this can help you target your customers with personalized shopping offers. For instance: “We’ve missed you this holiday season! Use this code to shop with us in November for 25% off one full-priced item.”

Translate E-commerce To In-Person

Prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, online shopping reached new heights in 2020. Although some shoppers remain reluctant to shop in stores a year later, you can bring the ease and the digital nature of e-commerce to the physical store experience, whether you are a traditional or omnichannel retailer.

Loyalty programs should allow shoppers to be identified as the same person, regardless of channel. It shouldn’t matter whether they browse your site or social channels – or if they check out as an online guest or buy an item in the store.

[See also: Will Walmart Have a Jolly Holiday Season?]

Using the right technology, retailers should be able to combine customer data to produce in-the-moment loyalty suggestions. Orders should trigger product recommendations or provide a reward update on the customer’s mobile device, which could prompt a larger purchase. Buying a sweater? How about a complementary scarf to make this purchase even better, especially if it’s a gift?

Lean Into Automation

Remember, most customers want multichannel interactions with your brand. Even the most die-hard in-store shopper was swayed to dabble with other options, like click-to-collect, during the pandemic. They gave up in-person experiences for convenience and safety, but that doesn’t mean they won’t come back to your stores, especially if you provide reasons to do so — think personalized offers to shop your brand.

Use data you gathered through technology to your advantage. Look at, for example, their multi-channel interactions and employ artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to try and determine their purchasing inclinations. Data can reveal what customers with similar behaviors purchase, so use that to offer suggestions. Technology should enable your data to work smarter rather than harder.

Track and Leverage Return Data

Unfortunately, customers’ holiday purchases often lead to returns — especially when it comes to gifts. Last year, two-thirds of shoppers said they would prefer to ship their holiday purchases back rather than do so in stores because of the risk of COVID-19 exposure. Although returned items equal lost revenue, returns can also provide valuable data regarding quality control, including revealing disconnects between what’s shown online vs. what’s shipped and which items are routinely unwanted.

Data related to returns can provide insights that can help you attain greater success in the future. It can help you improve your product mix, better understand your customers and streamline operational workflows.

Peak season 2021 is here. And the supply chain issues, labor shortages and other challenges provide retailers with opportunity, too. Data holds the key to success, as long as it’s up to date and actionable.

To put it simply, data is the backbone of modern CX. It allows you to make informed strategic decisions to maximize success and tailor those decisions per store or shopping method. It’s not too late to dive into your databases and uncover valuable insights. It will help create a CX that ensures your products will be featured under the tree.

David Wilkinson is president and general manager of NCR Retail.

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