Romancing the customer: data driven marketing in the retail industry

Shopping is a lot like dating. You look around until you find what you like, you check it over, maybe feel the quality, perhaps you try it to see if it suits you, or to see how well it performs. Retail and romance both play on your needs and wants, looking for things that please you. Then sooner or later – it’s time to make a commitment!

Relationships call for personalisation and nice experiences

Shoppers (and perhaps partners) expect a personalised and seamless customer experience at every touchpoint – whether it’s social, email, print, mobile, webpage, contact centre, e-commerce site or in-store at a physical outlet. As with any other data-driven marketing, retailers need to communicate the right content with the right offer at the right time to keep customers coming back for more. And whatever the touchpoint or interaction, the critical element is always data.

Data – the new “Little Black Book?”

It used to be loyalty programmes and coupons that kept regular customers feeling loved, while also helping retail marketers to collect data. But now there is a tsunami of information, such as online and offline customer behaviour, purchase and returns history, social media commentary, survey responses, location & movement data, and much more. Among these, internal customer data will always be important because it has a unique quality, only the retailer collecting the data has access to use it. However, research from Bain & Co indicates that 80{3eda5e173ca6275da4995c0ae548c8d458796745545971cbe387f3473f149606} of relevant data is now external and unstructured, coming as it does from social networks, blogs, review sites, etc. There is much value to be gained from understanding the sentiment and intent of public online commentary, it is another way to identify needs and wants, spot trends, keep tabs on competitors and explore how their strategies and your own are resonating with customers.

Omnichannels – so many places to make connections

With the line being blurred between digital and physical retailing, many new opportunities keep emerging. As omni-consumers visit stores, browse websites, or complete surveys etc, they create experience data. And the more real-time data that retailers can access, the better the service that customers can expect.

As innovations go, mobile channels open up more opportunities than most. The use of mobile geo-location technologies, for example, enable retailers to learn about a participating customer’s movements around a store. The customer can also be sent targeted, context-appropriate messages based on their proximity to relevant products within store, or guide mobile shoppers directly to products of interest or to information of value.

Some retail stores, such as Apple and McDonald’s, are also starting to deploy beacons in and around their premises. These small transmitters avoid the indoor limitations of GPS and provide more scope for marketing and data collection. They can be used to determine the physical location of mobile devices, track customers, or trigger a location-based action on the device, such as a check-in to social media or a push notification.

The single source of truth

Customers, (and sweethearts), don’t always share a common view – but retailers should. Their marketing staff and other business users need shared access to a single, 360-degree view of each customer plus the associated data: in other words, a single “source of truth.” Otherwise a customer might respond by email to a promotion for a particular product, visit a store and buy a different item, post a review online, return the purchased item to a different branch, and then share their thoughts in social media, with the business “blissfully” unaware that it’s one person involved in all these activities. How different might the retailers follow-up action be if they knew the truth?  Identifying and matching individuals with their devices and interaction details will become ever more challenging as new channels and devices emerge over time. If you want to be a “connected” retailer – you’d better get it together now!

Open communication is healthy in any relationship

It’s important to listen to social media, especially to customers and their sphere of influence to hear what people are saying. Analysing commentaries, sentiments and any potential influences that customers and prospects may be exposed to allows retail businesses to leverage the positives, or deal with the negatives, and hence get more out of their social investment. As 70-80{3eda5e173ca6275da4995c0ae548c8d458796745545971cbe387f3473f149606} of shoppers consult online reviews before purchasing, this analysis is particularly important for retailers1.

Communicating via online and mobile environments provides the ability to be proactive and “in the moment”, e.g. retailers can advise customers when a key event occurs. The more topical and interesting such communications are, the more people are likely to respond and to share the information with their social network… and with their “important others.”

Will the consumer romance with retail endure?

It is forecast that the retail industry will change more in the next three years than it has in the last five decades.

In-memory computing, for example, will help predictive analytics systems aggregate and analyse vast amounts of data from multiple data sources in nearly real-time. Linked with online or mobile technology it will mean that retailers can provide contextually relevant offers as soon as a customer walks-in or clicks on. Such real-time flow-analytics can also help to reduce wait times and speed up checkout queues. Innovations such as this will further enhance customer experience and loyalty. Whether it’s a partner or a customer, they are more likely to say yes if you show them you are blessed with deep insight and know what they want.

A happy ending

Many people love to shop and lots of long-term relationships have started at the mall. Perhaps that’s why retail has a stronger person-to-person characteristic than many other industries. Empathising with your customers by putting yourself in their shoes can be a valuable exercise for any database marketer. Get to know their hopes and dreams, fears and worries. The better you understand customers the more proactive you can be in ensuring that their needs and wants are met – and the longer and stronger the relationship will be.


  1. A new survey of 2,000 UK consumers by Trustpilot