Feb. 9, 2017
By Yair Holtzer, founder and VP strategic partnerships, Como
At the world’s largest retail exhibition, the NRF 'Big Show' in New York last month, people talked a great deal about making data-driven decisions. Although the traditional services of the retail world were still at the forefront — topics like inventory management, workers, and orders placed — most of the technological focus was elsewhere.
Taking center stage were advances in access to information, analysis for actionable business insights, and the rest of the improvements in the world of big data.
There is no doubt that in the current age, information is critical. When everything online is connected to a cloud and data is accessible in real time, business managers must make decisions based on information that is accurate and as up-to-date as possible.
But what decisions do you make with this information? You can decide a great deal — like where to open a new branch, how many workers to put on each shift, what products to add or remove from your catalog, when to have a sale, and more.
But the most important decisions are the ones that relate to your customers. Much information that is collected and analyzed correctly about customers' shopping habits – combined with their demographic details and the frequency of their visits to your branches – is like gold for your business. Yet, between the lectures and the booths at the NRF's big event — as much as people threw around terms like "analytics," "big data," and “insights” — there was one topic whose absence stood out: how to communicate most effectively with the customer.
Adapting information for the customer
Nearly the only thing that was missing for those at this year's big retail event was information on channels for communicating with the customer. Specifically, how can chains use data to connect with their customers in a smart way, possibly automatically, in order to offer each shopper products and discounts suited to their specific buying habits?
Among the presented solutions that could reinvent the world of retail, there was a notable lack of practical offerings enabling retail chains to provide all-in-one solutions for collecting and analyzing information, generating useful insights, and communicating directly with the customer.
One type of solution that we barely saw represented at the conference offers data-driven engagement. In this approach, a central server analyzes information from a business' point of sale, and then uses this information to automatically send messages that are suited to each individual customer. The idea behind data-driven engagement is to create a single automated process for gathering customer data, analyzing it, and then using it to personalize the customer experience.
The decisive role of mobile
Today, the best way to implement data-driven engagement is via mobile. The same device that accompanies the customers as they wander in your business — whether in person or online — is missing from the communications between chains and their end-users. In short, mobile is the perfect medium for using data to foster customer engagement.
But while major retailers already understand this, many of them don’t get the full picture. The problem is they prefer to develop apps themselves. Instead of focusing on selling goods to their customers, they stay busy with endless app maintenance, unexpected expenses, and the never-ending pursuit of a product that will satisfy ever-changing market trends. As a result, instead of focusing on the sales floor, they concentrate on their mobile user experience. Maybe big chains can afford this trial and error in terms of time and money — but for the rest of today’s retailers, it's likely more efficient to let a third party take care of making and maintaining their app.
Whether they use mobile apps, websites, or any other sales tools, today's retailers need to roll up their sleeves and start thinking seriously about using data to communicate with customers most effectively. Although we didn't hear too much of it at the Big Show, after the retailers adopt the data-driven insights brought up at the conference, they will understand that collecting and analyzing data is not enough. Because ultimately, customer engagement depends on offering your shoppers a smart, personal touch.