A SHIFT HAS taken place in European retail. For years, the idea of a single view of the customer was something of a standing gag within the industry, the point being that aspiration and reality were so far apart that retailers would forever be chasing an idea that would never quite come into focus.
Until now, that is. One of the most revealing things about our emerging practice feature on artificial intelligence is that, even five years ago, it might have seemed to be describing a world only seen in near-future airport thrillers. Now, as big data analytics get more and more sophisticated, it really is becoming possible to follow the trails customers leave as they access digital services, and to use this information to serve them better, even to make smart recommendations for items and services customers themselves don’t know they want to buy.
There it is… retail nirvana. Except nothing is ever that simple. As technologies related to AI, analytics and big data come down in cost, more and more retailers will begin to use them. A process of levelling up will begin and today’s innovative practice will become routine, expected.
So how should retailers go about staying ahead? One answer is that even as companies start to focus on creating data-driven, personalised offerings, retail professionals nevertheless need to be thinking about what comes next. Once you have rich data about customers, for instance, can you design new kinds of service around this information? Already, various competitors have entered the men’s grooming market, delivering razors and shaving products via a subscription model.
What about devices that make the most of the Internet of Things (IoT)? How might these change the way we shop? Nobody is too sure yet but it may be that IoT-enabled devices will order more functional purposes automatically – a washing machine reordering its own detergent, for example. Perhaps we will use the time we save with such advances to go shopping for fun and increasingly view shopping as entertainment.
The wider point is that finally getting a single view of the customer doesn’t just solve a longstanding problem for retailers, it poses a whole new set of challenges. Still, look at it this way, it will certainly be exciting to see what’s next.