The following guest article has been written for InternetRetailing by Wanda Cadigan, Global VP Commerce, Sitecore.
When Henry Ford built the Model T, he inadvertently set in motion a series of events leading to where we are today in the customer equation. One of those was how businesses approached personalisation, famously quipping “You can have (the Model T) in any colour as long as it’s black”. Fast forward a century (plus a decade), and you can see how this has come full circle. Despite being in an era where Amazon has furthered the need for retailers to provide accessible, competitively priced products, it’s no longer enough to offer just a product, regardless of whether that’s at the cheapest price with the best features. Indeed, digging into the recent Whole Foods acquisition demonstrates the real value of the deal is in all of the customer data, and not just about acquiring hundreds of stores and affluent customers.
We’ve reached a tipping point where customers want helpful information to go alongside what they’re about to purchase, or continue to use. And they want this any time, any place, with minimal friction. This is where the opportunity lies for retailers that get personalisation right. Consumer now expect your interaction with them to acknowledge their current needs and history with your brand - to such an extent that they’re willing to part with personal data, in order to increase the experiences, they have with your brand. In a recent study Sitecore conducted with Vanson Bourne, 45% of consumers are willing to provide data in order for brands to personalise their experience. In short, they’re giving you permission to extend your offerings into their lifestyle – if you get it right… sloppy, impersonal marketing is a recipe for failure. Which is why content, and now context plays such a key role in consumers during the brand experience – it’s freely available to the customer throughout the entire retail experience, whether they are engaging online and offline.
Consumers want personalisation but retailers struggle to make the connection – it’s a breakdown in the customer equation. Why can’t they do it? Broadly speaking it falls into three categories: Technology, people and process. If you start with technology, it often centres around siloed systems and data flow. For all of the talk of digital transformation, and the investment organisations are making towards this, for many, connecting data silos should be one of the key areas to look at. Having a disjointed, siloed database – for example, information captured when a consumer visits a website, that doesn’t talk to the email database, resulting in the customer receiving less relevant, less personalised content – is a recipe for failure. Supporting this is the overall trepidation around data, and the maturity levels of some organisations. More often than not retailers know they need to do it but don’t know how they’re going to do it.
Recruiting the individuals that can work out how to make use of these data sets, and understand the tools available to them will help the organisation become a data-driven, rather than product-driven organisation – a key attribute needed to thrive in today’s digital world. Finally, processes within the organisation itself needs to be reviewed. Customer data, personalisation and the customer experience have become so integral to the success of the business that making the most of the window of opportunity you have is the building block to a successful organisation. Which is where Sitecore comes in. We’ve been helping retailers across the world make the most of every opportunity they have by automating engagement plans that link content and commerce together – for example, if a prospective customer has an item in their online basket for 24 hours, an email alert is triggered, notifying the customer and sending the an incentive to purchase the item.
We’re working with business to align technology, data and processes so they avoid using a disconnected jumble of marketing tools, resulting in a disjointed experience. Companies which focus solely on the almighty transaction are failing while companies that use data to create relevant customer experiences are winning customers for life. Transactional vs integral But those forward-thinking retailers are fast realising that the shopping cart isn’t the end state, but the middle part of the journey. It’s no longer acceptable to draw customers into a beautifully designed brand website, only to abandon them post-transaction with no real intent to deepen the relationship.
Engagement in the post as well as pre-purchase state has now become an essential part of the sales cycle, that goes beyond product in order to retain customers. Rather, it’s how you communicate with your customers before and after the transaction that drives brand loyalty and customer retention. Fundamentally, marketers and digital leaders can only effectively manage the customer experience when they’re marketing in context of how customers have interacted with their brand. How you communicate with your customers before and after the transaction could ultimately decide the level of brand loyalty and customer retention you can achieve.