Omnichannel Retail Takes More Than Just Product Data
By Miriam Molino Sánchez
By now, virtually everyone in the retail world agrees that customer engagement takes center stage — and that the omnichannel model is here to stay.
Omnichannel means a unified experience for the customer — from browsing items on the store website to exchanges and returns, shoppers have come to expect seamlessness and continuity. While the word omnichannel highlights the “channel” dimension, we shouldn’t forget that the focus is on the customer.
Omnichannel Is Inherently Complex
Seamlessly linking every client interaction through the shopping journey and making it easy for the client is complicated. Retailers often rely on legacy applications that need to be in sync with modern channel solutions serving commerce, social media, email campaigns, etc. — and that's only the digital side. What happens when retailers must interconnect all these processes with stores or customer support centers, the human side of retail? The complexity just scales up.
It's not just a question of implementing complex cognitive models or strong analytics components. Retailers need to start at the beginning, ensuring customers can access the right information, no matter whether they search or ask. Going a step further, that information must be consistent in the different interaction points, updated accordingly, and enriched when necessary.
Customer Experiences Take Work
Like in every human relationship, the customer experience needs to be translated into pragmatic and specific needs. A successful partnership takes day-to-day effort materialized in small actions — getting up early to make coffee, buying those preferred brands, providing a listening ear after a bad day.
It’s the same with customers. Retailers must capture and understand their key preferences when buying the different products (to update search criteria), providing delivery options that make sense for them (creating extended customer profiles expanding from demographics to needs and behaviors) or creating the right links with their network of physical stores (connecting customer preferences and needs to location services).
Looking Beyond Product Data
Traditionally, product data has been king for delivering these nuanced customer experiences. That domain is important, but what about everything else surrounding a product and its retail journey? How does store location, mask regulations and delivery logistics — even today’s weather forecast — play in?
Data is more than a static concept. Mastering your data is about capturing the right data in the most efficient, engaging ways. Efficiency here refers to the use of automation to simplify processes and reduce errors. Engaging here means making things easy, providing the right context for data capture, and connecting the reasons for asking to specific values.
What’s become increasingly clear is that taking customer engagement to the next level in an omnichannel world requires tapping into more than product data alone.
Data, Data and More Data
Retail companies are faced with a staggering range of data domains to consider. From nuanced customer preferences to the layout of potentially hundreds of brick-and-mortar stores, retailers have an overwhelming amount of information to process and use.
“You find yourself dealing with hundreds and thousands of products, trying to validate which products have which attributes,” said Jennifer Skeen, SVP of omnichannel and marketing at Sun & Ski Sports, an outdoor adventure sports retailer with 31 stores across 12 states.
The stakes have never been higher for retailers — more than 70% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalized interactions, and nearly that percentage reported frustration when those interactions fall short. Personalization starts with knowledge. Who are we personalizing for? What value will this personalization bring to that specific customer?
“We need visibility into all our enterprise data and to make that data accessible to everyone who needs it,” said Skeen, who has been immersed in the retail world since she was 16. “Who should receive that email blast, that targeted ad? There’s so much we have to take into account.”
A thorough understanding of history and context is essential. It’s not just recommending another book if the customer just bought one — it’s far more complex to make a real impact, not only in sales but in customer satisfaction.
Creating Zones of Insight
Bringing together domains of data gives retailers valuable opportunities for personalization. These zones of insight (you can think of them as Venn diagrams) help retailers build a 360-degree view of the customer that details their shopping behavior, what brands they’re drawn to, etc. That view empowers retailers to educate the customer upfront about an item.
Understanding each customer lets retailers optimize marketing dollars and gain valuable knowledge about how their brand fits into the larger market space. Also crucial is keeping retail associates in the loop about products, as well as relevant local and state laws and ordinances affecting operations.
Tapping into these zones of insight also brings valuable internal benefits, such as improving operations through automating processes, leading to increased employee loyalty.
Relevancy Is Everything
In today’s retail world, people don’t just want a consistent, engaging shopping experience — they expect it. What we know is that to win at the retail game, companies have to expand their view beyond just product data. A combination of different data-driven insights come together for a superior experience for new and returning buyers.
“Looking at these different types of data lets us talk to customers in a relevant way, bringing more people onto our website and into our stores,” Skeen said.
— Miriam Molino Sánchez, Stibo Systems Head of Global Retail Practice
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