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Guest comment: How to gain and utilise customer insight

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by Adam Bennington

There has never been as much scope and depth for retailers to build detailed customer insight, which when used intelligently and ethically, can lead to truly engaging and relevant marketing content.

Traditionally, customer insight was derived from loyalty cards, past transactions, customer surveys, service calls, billing and credit history, but now digital communication channels are proving to be a fantastic source of data and have become an essential tool in improving customer understanding.

Here are the essential sources of insight that every retailer should be utilising.


Email is one of the most measurable marketing channels and is therefore an invaluable source of customer insight. By evaluating and categorising email information, such as links clicked-on, open rates and browsing behaviour, retailers can begin to build up a very detailed picture of individuals’ personal preferences and behaviour. For example, categorised link tracking enables you to see how often recipients are clicking on specific types of links. This can be related to certain products or services, which can then be used to tailor subsequent emails.

However the recipient doesn’t necessarily even have to engage with an email for retailers to gain insight. For example, if left unopened, the communications might be inappropriate for that particular person or there could be a problem with the subject line or design of the email. Multivariate testing is an enormously effective way of overcoming these types of issues. By testing each combination of each component of an email (subject line, images, copy), retailers can optimise and tailor content for each customer, which significantly improves response rates and return on investment (ROI). What’s important is that each communication contains a call to action that is measurable and can be used to develop further insight.

It’s important that retailers use digital data to develop a detailed understanding of the customer lifecycle – the journey somebody takes from being a prospect to being a regular, repeat customer who is engaging with all communications. By analysing email engagement it’s possible to identify the key events in the purchase decision and track people through the key phases. If you can pre-empt people dropping out of this cycle, then it’s possible to re-engage them with dynamic content and tailored offers.

Website analytics

It goes without saying that some form of website analytics tool is a prerequisite for any online retailer, but arguably one of its most valuable assets is being able to directly track sale conversions from an email. Tracking recipients from a specific link in an email to the retailer’s website and then monitoring their every movement online, whether it’s their dwell time, the products they’re browsing or products abandoned, is all enormously telling. Barriers to purchase can be identified and, most importantly, removed; individual profiles can be developed further; and ‘moments of truth’ in the customer lifecycle – those key factors that tip the balance – can be created to push the consumer one step closer to completing the sale. Likewise, having fully integrated analytics set up on each channel with the data fed into a single engine enables retailers to track indirect sales as well. It’s the only true way to show ROI where it matters and to ensure marketing spend is allocated optimally, rather than simply crediting the last channel that resulted in the sale.

Social media

Social media offers a very different type of insight compared to email and web analytics, but one that has massive potential if used in the correct way. Rather than open and click-through rates, it’s much more qualitative in nature; you’re looking for things such as activity and posts, shares, retweets, friends and fans. In other words, those consumers evangelising about the product and with a high propensity to share.

Facebook is the primary social media network given its reach; retailers can harness and aggregate public profiles (depending on users’ privacy settings), however as soon as users ‘like’ a brand you can immediately access more detailed information. This data is particularly valuable if it can be merged with traditional data and used for creating more precise marketing messages.

Whilst signing up to a retailer’s Facebook App means they can begin including dynamic content, it’s important to note that liking doesn’t necessarily mean fans want to buy, it merely gives you permission to start a dialogue. As with any relationship, it needs to be nurtured.

The significant challenge with social media is that without a suitable CRM system to collate all the data, it’s extremely difficult to manage and near impossible to turn the insight into anything actionable. Likewise, it’s most effective when used as part of a wider multichannel campaign.


With the continuing growth of smartphones, it’s become a necessity for retailers to know how their customers are using mobiles to engage with the brand. For example, are they checking their emails on the phone, if so are your customer emails and website optimised accordingly? Are consumers using their mobiles in-store? Are consumers utilising QR codes, Facebook Check-In or Foursquare? Are mobiles being used in response to your advertising? There are huge opportunities to use mobiles to drive sales – whether in-store or online – but as with any multichannel strategy, its success does of course rely on the accuracy of the insight and the database management system behind it.


Common search words or phrases are more often than not indicative of a high propensity to purchase. If a user is registered and signed in, these can be logged against individual profiles and used in conjunction with existing insight and web analytical data to tailor follow-up communications. Depending on how detailed the search phrase, this can be highly specific and highly targeted.

Even if users aren’t registered, if the same phrases are continuously searched for then it could be that the item is particularly popular and should be made more prominent in your communications (either on your website or email) or that there could be a more fundamental problem with the usability of your website, if users can’t easily find what they are looking for. Likewise, key terms should be incorporated into your website to improve search engine optimisation.

Adam Bennington is key account manager at eCircle

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