Today’s Brass Ring of Retailing? Achieving One View of the Consumer

Matt Marcotte snapped the photo from where he stood in approximately 10th place in an even deeper line at the POS register in Banana Republic. The young man stood behind the cash wrap station, elbow practically touching the traditional POS, hunched over a small mobile device lying before him. “Poor guy looks like he’s studying for the SAT,” says Marcotte. We in the audience at Manhattan Associates’ Momentum conference all laughed. He really did. Your heart went out to him.

When Marcotte, who previously worked at Apple and Tory Burch, finally made it to the front of the line, he asked the associate, “Why don’t you just use the register?”

“They want us to use mobile.”

Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. The point behind technology is to create simplicity for the customer and the sales associate, to delight customers with products and experiences that turn them into loyalists, and to keep them coming back for more.

A purchase is 60 percent product, 40 percent brand affection, says Marcotte, who is the founder of M2 Collaborative. “Product is not product,” he says. “Product is my souvenir of the experience.”

Pier 1 Imports had created an attractive website that curated entire rooms, rather than individual pieces of furniture and other decorative items. Consumers poring over the website might happen upon a living room that they wanted to replicate in their own home: the couches, the coffee tables, the rugs, the lamps, the wall furnishings. The visuals were perfect. But the purchase experience was less than. There was no option to “buy this room.” Instead, it was a laborious task that required the customer to pore over pages, searching for each piece. Just to find the lamp required clicking through seven pages of light fixtures. That task was given to Pier 1’s CEO. It took an hour just to locate the items in the room.

Dealing with a rat’s nest of legacy systems

That’s the sort of half-baked experience many consumers encounter these days. It’s not rare to find good-looking visuals online, attractive product in the store and multiple fulfillment options to select from, for example, but when it comes to execution, consumers are often left with old-world experiences of long lines, missing product in their sizes, difficulty finding the information they need on the website, and so forth.

The problem isn’t that retailers don’t care, or don’t want to deliver a stellar experience. It’s that they’re suffering with a “rat’s nest of legacy systems,” said Noel Goggin, CEO of Aptos, speaking at the company’s annual user conference, Aptos Engage, who shared the above incident with Pier One along with other examples of how old legacy systems or unconnected systems with siloed data are preventing retailers from advancing into today’s modern era of retailing.

In the store of yesteryear, the customer journey was linear, and simple, said Goggin, but today it is “multi-dimensional and massively fluid,” with many touchpoints and many interactions — “and so many places to disappoint your customers.”  You can have nine great interactions and just one bad one, and you’ve disappointed your customer, he said. So on the one hand, you’ve got to keep up with your customer expectations by providing an endless stream of great product, personalized to their tastes and desires, in an engaging and loyalty-inspiring way, which can be delivered across an increasing number of channels; on the other hand, you’ve got to have systems in place that can support this expanding omnichannel matrix.

Given the history of retail software, with tech stacks that are layered with years of overlapping code and retail and e-comm systems that were originally set up to operate independently, retailers are struggling to meet the current demands of omnichannel profitably. That’s because the data they need to obtain one view of the order and one view of the customer is scattered across a variety of cobbled-together systems that do not speak to each other. To create a unified commerce system that can function effectively across the enterprise really requires unraveling and simplifying the code.

To that end, the company last year introduced Aptos Labs, tasked with starting over by “unraveling the DNA” of its systems, and starting from scratch. The goal: to build a platform to support one set of universal capabilities at any touchpoint that is “omni-native” and designed for change. The result is Aptos One, launched in April, designed to simplify, engage and connect the customer, employee and business partner experiences.

Aptos One is a cloud-native platform available through AWS and Azure. Because of the complexity of software systems and the amount of manpower it takes to maintain them, it’s becoming increasingly common for software to be created for the cloud, and for retailers to select this option. Many Aptos customers are choosing to deploy their Aptos solutions on the cloud, including True Religion, DTLR and Villa. This is freeing up gobs of time and gobs of money, and without the need to spend money to maintain core systems, IT human resources can be used in more strategic value-building missions, and that’s better for companies, employees and, of course, customers.

Data is like a gym membership

While these days it’s not hard to start a business, it’s harder than ever to scale, says Jim McGeever, executive vice president of Oracle-NetSuite. Scaling processes — “the right processes” ― is particularly difficult because you need different processes at different stages of your business, and they have to be implemented within constraints of time and capital. At the NetSuite OneWorld Conference, McGeever shared that NetSuite is helping customers get up and running on in 30 days on its modular e-commerce platform, SuiteCommerce. He likens the solution to a “ready-to-wear suit,” offering ready-made themes, defined experience flow, automatic upgrades and rich commerce functionality, all designed to give business owners visibility into their customers — all without the need for developer resources.

SuiteCommerce is equipped with the same AI functionality that the company has recently embedded across its entire application suite, which is key to digging up insights across a business. As McGeever says, “data is like a gym membership — it only helps if you use it.”

Using data these days is crucial; competition is only getting steeper. Today, each time a customer is exposed to an improved shopping experience, her shopping expectations are reset to a new higher level, says Brendan Witcher, principal analyst at Forrester Research, who spoke at both Aptos’ Engage and Manhattan Momentum. Significantly, that isn’t just about your direct competition. “We compare our experience to the last experience we have. You are not behind your competitors; you are behind your customer. … If I can order coffee on an app, I expect others to be able to offer that, too,” he says. The pace of change is swift, with services that were unique only recently, now run of the mill. For example, says Witcher, 100 percent of omnichannel retailers now offer BOPIS, and today, 14 percent of U.S. shoppers use in-store pickup all or most of the time when it is available.

As some companies master convenient and user-friendly experiences, consumers are growing less patient with those that don’t. Sixty-one percent of consumers report that they are unlikely to return to a website that does not provide a satisfactory customer experience, says Witcher, yet what is satisfactory for one consumer is not necessarily what is satisfactory for another. And therein lies the rub. “Our satisfaction triggers are all different,” he says.

Understanding the unique satisfaction triggers of your individual customers is, therefore, key. That’s what allows you to personalize your offerings to them, whether that’s customized marketing, product, fulfillment options or something else. People expect digitalized, individualized, seamless experiences ― all of your customers, not just the 20 percent who buy online, says Witcher. The other 80 percent may go into your store to make their final purchases, but their shopping journeys likely started on a digital device, so if you design your website for those 20 percent of online purchasers, you are not serving your entire consumer base. (Just 11.7 percent, or $415.3 billion, of the total U.S. retail sales of $3.5 trillion were placed online, but the web influenced $1.4 trillion in sales in 2017, Witcher reports.)

“No one wakes up and says, ‘From now on, I’m only going to shop online.’ … We are all omnichannel shoppers,” he says, noting that stores aren’t going anywhere, because people want to feel the product, or they want it right away, or they want the experience of shopping in a store. “Retailers opened 12,000 stores last year. The retail apocalypse is not happening,” he says.

Yet even though consumers still love to shop in brick-and-mortar, their in-store expectations are being set by online experiences. “Today’s digitally savvy customers expect brands to understand them,” said Witcher. “It’s not collecting the data that consumer’s object to. It’s how you use it.”

Consider Stitch-Fix. The subscription shopping service asks customers to complete a form that takes 20 minutes to fill out, yet 80 percent of the people who start it, finish it. “People love talking about themselves,” says Witcher, and they’re happy to provide a retailer with information if it will be used to enhance their shopping experience and connect them to merchandise and experiences they want. Being able to do this requires a lot of detailed information about their behaviors, sentiments, affinities, attitudes and context. “The last product I bought does not indicate the next product I’m going to buy,” he says.

“Knowing your customer requires a lot of really hard, unsexy work. If you have your data in 10 different locations, you do not have a 360-degree view of your customer. You have 10 different 360-degree views.”

The customer experience has previously been that retailers track customers service in one system, consumer orders in another, phone conversations in yet another, and so forth, said Eddie Capel, president and CEO of Manhattan Associates. To gain one complete picture of the customer, Manhattan Associates this year introduced its Customer Engagement solution, part of its Active™ Omni suite of solutions. The solution gives customer service reps insight into everything from structured data such as customer purchase history, price sensitivity and fulfillment preferences to unstructured data from customer emails, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and phone  conversations — all in one place. 

“Connected technologies enable more relevant engagements along the journey,” said Witcher, with customers identified across channels and captured as individuals, customer data assessed in real time with dynamically calculated intent (for example, not showing toasters when you’re ready to buy a blender, just because that’s what you looked at last time) and personalized content delivered equally across every channel. “Who’s doing this well? No one,” says Witcher.

But as technology continues to improve, as customers continue to expect more, and as retailers move toward gaining a holistic view of their entire enterprise, there’s a good chance some retailers will be soon.


Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel. She can be reached at [email protected].





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