It continues to be a tough time for many in retail. High street shops are still shuttered as the pandemic shows no signs of ending, at least in the short term. Evidence of the damage inflicted by the health crisis is reinforced by recent figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) that highlight 2020 was the worst year in 25 years for UK retailers, as retail sales fell 0.3 per cent against 2019.
But it’s not just the pandemic causing problems today. A second potentially significant challenge facing retailers are the shock waves from Brexit, which are starting to have impact.
Against this background a sizeable number of retailers are either new to or only started to take ecommerce seriously in 2020 - forced to by the lockdowns closing their stores, an increasing amount of stock to sell and a growing realisation of the convenience online shopping provides to their customers.
Today, these challenger ecommerce retailers find themselves scrambling to compete with the established players. The incumbent ecommerce retailers also need to up their game as the competition grows online with these new entrants.
Time to sell globally
A key opportunity ecommerce provides is the ability to sell globally, something that’s particularly important for those based in the UK contending with the twin challenges of the pandemic and Brexit. After all, it’s having access to an international marketplace that will help many to survive and ideally thrive, in both the short and long term.
Need a consistent positive customer experience
However, simply having a web presence is not enough to be successful globally, particularly when there’s so much similarity in the quality and price of products on offer. Retailers need to be delivering a consistent positive customer experience, regardless of market or location. Not doing so can have a negative impact on the user experience and therefore damage the image of the retailer; meaning they could struggle to survive in the long term.
Clean and accurate customer contact data critical
A key driver at the heart of powering a consistent and standout customer experience worldwide is obtaining accurate customer contact data at a global level, particularly address data. Customer data is, unquestionably, one of the most valuable assets retailers have. Firstly, the data—if clean, contemporary and verified—ensures communications are efficiently delivered to provide a good customer experience. This avoids the dreaded and expensive mis-deliveries. Secondly, clean data can be effectively analysed to gain valuable customer insight that retailers can use to keep existing customers happy, with personalised communications, so they return and spend more in the long term.
To achieve this retailers need access to global address, email and phone verification services to ensure existing databases have accurate customer contact information worldwide; ideally those that also ensure the correct customer information is collected during the onboarding stage. As well as correcting inaccuracies such tools can add missing contact information too, that will further improve customer communications. This will lead to retailers being able to deliver an optimised customer experience which will encourage them to remain customers in the long term, helping merchants to compete with the likes of Amazon.
Data decay an issue
It’s important to remember that without regular intervention customer data degrades at two per cent each month and 25 per cent over the course of a year. Therefore, without taking any action to mitigate this decay those in ecommerce are in danger of seeing an expensive rise in mis-deliveries. Also, they will progressively gather incorrect insight on their customer base that could negatively impact on their communications and product range, resulting in a poor customer experience and reduced revenue.
Additionally, the issue of customer data quality is becoming a problem at the customer onboarding stage. It’s because more and more people are providing their contact data via their mobile devices – a small screen – thereby increasing the likelihood of mistyping their contact details. In fact, we have found that approximately 20 per cent of addresses entered online contain errors such as spelling mistakes, wrong house numbers, and inaccurate postcodes.
Ideally, retailers should use an address autocomplete service to ensure accurate address data is collected as part of the customer journey – regardless of where their customer is located globally. These tools will automatically reveal a suggested correct version of the address as the customer completes an online contact form, enabling them to select one that’s not only accurate but easily recognised, and correctly formatted for their country location. They will negate the cost of correcting data later. Another benefit of an autocomplete tool is that as well as preventing mistakes caused by fat finger syndrome, it reduces the number of keystrokes required when typing an address by up to 70 per cent. This speeds up checkout and reduces shopping cart abandonment, aiding the delivery of a standout customer experience.
With the correct address you can also further improve the customer experience via geocoding, which helps to provide a consistently accurate global delivery service. It works by taking a verified postal address and enriching it by appending rooftop latitude and longitude location coordinates. This highly accurate location information speeds up the delivery process, reduces shipping costs and prevents expensive, in monetary and customer experience terms, ‘return to sender’ scenarios.
Deduplication improves the customer experience
Deduplication of customer data will help to enhance the customer experience. Duplication is a common problem, caused by names and contact information being obtained with errors at different touchpoints, and also by the merging of customer databases after the purchase of a competitor or a new partnership. As well as the cost implications of producing duplicate communications, particularly mailings, not regularly deduping data will lead to large number of customers possibly viewing the same communication more than once. This has the potential to damage the brand image of the retailer in the eyes of customers, and slow the delivery of communications and products, because of the inaccurate information. Also, duplicate data will lead to poor analytics and therefore impact on the accuracy of customer communications.
Retailers need access to an advanced fuzzy matching tool to deduplicate data. It’s this that will ensure they merge and purge the most difficult records, produce a single customer view and therefore personalised customer communications from fragmented and dispersed current records to help drive a standout customer experience.
Protect against fraud and a negative customer experience
Finally, with instances of fraud on the increase in the digital world, taking steps to protect customers and your business by undertaking ID verification, is important. It’s possible to do this effectively by matching a name to a specific physical address, telephone or email to make sure a prospective customer is who they say they are, in real time, and therefore deliver a standout onboarding experience. The best approach requires sourcing and obtaining access to a global dataset of billions of records containing data from trusted country specific reference sources, such as credit agency, government agency, utility company and international watchlist data. This is not something for those only operating at the high value end of ecommerce to embrace, but all merchants - particularly with fraud on the up and the cost of integrating ID verification solutions into systems coming down.
After a difficult 2020, and what’s set to be a bumpy 2021 with the twin challenges of the pandemic and Brexit, retailers need to maximise the opportunity to sell their products and services to a worldwide audience. To do this effectively they need to be delivering a consistent and positive global customer experience online. This is powered by having access to clean, accurate and verified customer contact data at a global level, which must be at the foundation of all efforts to successfully deliver a standout customer experience worldwide.
Barley Laing, UK managing director, Melissa