We are mining the intricacies of our lives in greater depth than ever before. Digital touchpoints are exploding across the consumer landscape; soon, nearly every aspect of our lives will be governed by a digital interface. We are constantly projecting a complex and interwoven series of signals that, when correctly connected, map out our lives with frightening specificity. Only artificial intelligence is capable of deciphering this new, digital cartography.
As consumers, we have come to predict and expect the level of hyper-personal, finely-curated content that artificial intelligence delivers. Brands must create in-store experiences that reflect and augment our movements online. And as the traditional boundaries of retail evaporate, brands must know when to engage, intrude and escalate, and when to show restraint. In the eyes of consumers, each platform, and every device, is simply one way of seeing a familiar face; no thought is given to enterprise structures and systems. All that matters is a seamless and consistent experience.
The bar for retailers is therefore set at a considerable height, and the path to reaching and exceeding the competitive benchmark for seamless, hyper-personalised, omnichannel retail is littered with pitfalls. Artificial intelligence, effectively implemented, becomes an indispensable ally in this pursuit; and, in the hands of the competition, a formidable foe.
Lucidworks and Connect Media gathered leading digital and marketing minds from some of the nation’s preeminent retailers for a candid discussion on how businesses are responding to soaring consumer demands. Our conversation unearthed shared frustrations as well as numerous opportunities – this is what they had to say.
Data rules supreme in today’s hypercompetitive retail environment. Data creation and collection have soared exponentially in recent years, and this pattern will hold as the Internet of Things matures, creating and connecting more data sources. In this context, we are all participants on a sprawling information highway, and retailers that can reliably collect and track the signals we outlay are in poll position to predict the flow of traffic: our very preferences and intentions.
To be effective in this task, retailers must consistently aggregate and reconcile a mass of disparate, cross-channel data sources. In the world of omnichannel retail, effective data management – combined with retail science – enables businesses to identify sources of demand, understand how customers engage across various channels, and capture customers at the optimal time in their purchasing journey. Today, data can be captured in real-time, helping retailers identify current and future trends, and engage with the customer throughout their shopping experience.
This, however, is easier said than done. Many attendees expressed frustration at the lack of integration between various silos of their business, with concerns they were missing potentially profitable opportunities to create an engaging, highly personalised experience for customers due to the inadequate technology at their disposal.
Unfortunately, despite big data being a highly attractive proposition, there is no single solution to enable it, leaving many retailers struggling to deal with a deluge of complex, multi-channel data and few insights into the changing buying patterns of their customers.
Retailers who are only just taking the first step towards fully leveraging data insights to grow business revenue should start by constructing an accessible and ordered repository for data. This requires a homogenous data model, and a unified omnichannel retail system. This base, when supported by innovative technology that provides an integrated end-to-end solution, will enable business decision-makers to fully leverage the opportunities presented by big data.
Lucidworks discussed the methods whereby custom ‘signals’ left by individual online customers could be identified, in order to distinguish between customers and personalise product offerings based on a number of factors likely to impact the purchase decision – even down to the weather in the customer’s local area.
This technology allows retailers to streamline the buying process by better navigating the intersection between customers and channels, enabling marketers to track and comprehend patterns of individual customer behaviour, and creating a platform whereby the business can establish deep, personalised connections with individual customers and build lasting, profitable relationships.
In today’s hypercompetitive retail environment, interference at any stage of the customer journey will be punished by competitors. To guide customers down the path to purchase and secure their loyalty, retailers must recognise their customers across channels. This is the new unbroken interface of personal retail.
It is not an understatement to identify customer loyalty, and effective customer retention, as the most important factors in the success of digital commerce. Decreasing churn rate, and increasing the proportion of return customers engaging with your business, is simultaneously both the simplest and most overlooked driver of business profitability, especially in today’s crowded e-commerce landscape.
Retailers have long assumed a simple rewards program was enough to lock customers into their ecosystem. No longer. Loyalty today is far more than a transaction; instead, it is a series of humanised interactions comprised of seamless experiences that cut across content and touchpoints.
With access to an ever-increasing breadth and depth of data, retailers must be cognisant of the entire consumer journey in order to build more personalised relationships with their customers. Customer experience, rather than the generosity of a retailer’s loyalty program, is the key factor in generating return business today.
Retailers require a deep understanding of how and when customers are engaging with their various sales channels in order to guide customers down the path to purchase – not just in that transaction, but in future transactions, too. The modern consumer expects a retailer to meet with them on an individual basis; and retailers must be able to identify and engage with each individual in order to build a relationship and lock them in to the business’s ecosystem for life. Businesses need to adopt a farsighted approach to every customer interaction; lifetime value is progressively becoming an essential metric in measuring the success of a retailer’s customer engagement.
The goal of every customer contact should be to build an emotional connection with the individual, establish a relationship, and continue to anticipate and meet that customer’s needs for decades to come. That is loyalty in today’s retail landscape – a world where each interaction obtains new and enormous significance; and where risks are great, but potential rewards greater.
The retail environment is an ever-changing world. Despite improvements in data collection and analysis, and the development of technology that can be implemented across channels to meet the needs of consumers, retailers are still struggling to identify and engage with customers in productive and enduring ways.
The success of digital commerce relies upon retailers’ ability to integrate data silos across their business, and interpret the signals left by individual consumers in order to tailor products towards them and ultimately build lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.
As customer expectations continue to increase, and competitors adopt ever more sophisticated technology in order to meet those expectations, retailers must ensure they not only understand the desires of consumers today, but also the demands of tomorrow. This requires implementing and leveraging the newest technology to capture and analyse customer data, and gather accurate insights into the buying patterns of consumers that will establish a competitive advantage for a tech-savvy firm.
Artificial intelligence has the power to completely transform retailers’ digital experiences. From machine learning to query analysis, the applications of this technology are only beginning to be realised. The retailer that embraces artificial intelligence in order to better understand and service its customer is the retailer that will win the market, now and into the future.