Retail operations are increasingly performed through digital platforms, giving companies access to more data points than ever before. Yet many businesses are still falling into the same traps and failing to extract the real value of the data in order to forge strong customer relationships. They know what the customer is doing, but do they know why? And are they using that information to shape their strategy?
“For many brands, data and analytics are handled by a small number of analysts, which means many of the people whose job it is to improve the user experience are in the dark about how and why visitors behave the way they do,” said Jonathan Cherki, CEO and founder of digital experience insights platform ContentSquare.
Providing employees with appropriate data could look like sharing a detailed profile of a consumer, with their birthday and preferences, in order to power marketing efforts. Or it could just mean knowing that an anonymous user has visited the site multiple times and consistently searched for a particular item. In the latter scenario, a brand can use this customer behavior to help inform recommendations on the platform and potentially convert that anonymous user into a claimed profile.
While there has been large-scale debate about what data should be collected by companies, growing numbers of customers are comfortable sharing their information as long as they feel they can trust the brand and will receive better services in exchange, according to a 2018 report by Acxiom. This means that brands are in a great position to learn more about their customers, but they need to deliver an improved customer experience.
“The most important thing here is that it can’t be a one-way street; this needs to be a bidirectional relationship,” said Chris Hauca, GM of SAP Commerce Cloud. “The customer needs to benefit.”
Tracking a customer’s journey across its digital platform reveals a lot about user behavior, but understanding the exact moment of disengagement is especially crucial for retailers. If the customer clicked through all the way to the shipping page and then closed out, perhaps the shipping offering isn’t competitive or transparent enough. If it happened after the user searched the sizes available, perhaps it’s an inventory problem.
“Knowing where and why struggles occur at each step of the digital journey means you can improve journeys and remove friction before it has a lasting negative impact on engagement,” said Cherki.
Understanding customer context is particularly relevant when shopping takes place through multiple channels, often simultaneously. An abandoned online purchase could mean that a customer decided against the product — or that the customer used the digital platform as a form of price comparison before buying the item in-store. Identifying that digital customer as the same one who purchased in-store gives retailers the full view of that customer’s shopping experience and ensures that companies are focusing their attentions on the right friction points.
On the other hand, it’s also critical to know when action doesn’t need to be taken — and could, in fact, be harmful. Communication is important but is frequently overused by brands trying to force connection with consumers.
“The simplest mistake that brands make is that as soon as I give them my information and I check the box, I start getting multiple emails and offers a week that aren’t relevant to me,” said Hauca. “Mass email marketing campaigns don’t have the relevancy that they used to, but a lot of organizations still depend on them. If you’re going to send a communication to a customer, it needs to be as thoughtful and as targeted in relevance to that customer as possible.”
A user-specific alert highlighting that a recently viewed product is now on sale is far more effective than multiple blanket emails announcing new product drops. Ultimately, it’s more about using data efficiently than collecting more of it; most brands and retailers already have enough to work with.
“In order to be agile, to make the right decisions quickly and to drive the most ROI, those tasked with developing the visitor journey need to understand what these visitors want,” said Cherki. “Put the right data in the right hands: everyone’s.”