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Multichannel: Digesting data

Retailers need to not only collect but decipher data to have a clear customer view.

Retail has reached a tipping point. As Jas Virdee, a partner at strategy consulting firm Kurt Salmon, says: “It has moved from single channel to multichannel to omnichannel to multi-screen experiences.” With numerous touchpoints available, retailers need to ensure that all data is consolidated into one place.

This will deliver a consistent, personalised experience across multiple channels, achieving a single customer view.

BrandAlley is one retailer grappling with the issue. Melissa Littler, marketing director at the private Sale site, says while the company has pulled all of its different data sources together, it is not yet cost effective to act at a single customer level. “We understand our customers and their browsing and buying behaviour, and we understand their thoughts and trends, but we can’t - right now - do one offer against a singular customer.”

For Farfetch, a web portal that unites more than 280 boutiques from around the world, understanding browsing as well as purchasing behaviour is important as it is a high-end business that sees a low number of transactions relative to the volume of site traffic. “Purchase history is great if you’re doing a lot of transactions, but if you have a very small amount of transactional data to work with you need other data sources to tell you something about the customer,” says chief operating officer Andrew Robb.

The website has addressed this problem by working with data intelligence company Qubit, which has allowed it to take a more customer-centric view of visitors’ browsing behaviour than many other analytics solutions allow. “A classic example is that when someone doesn’t make a purchase on a visit it is often classed as a ‘fail’, whereas we know that people typically take three weeks and multiple visits before they make a purchase with us. Those failed visits are a very important part of the overall conversion path.”

In addition to understanding on-site behaviour, it is increasingly important to know what devices people are using to browse and shop. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), tablet use now accounts for an average of 4.4 hours of web browsing a week, a trend that Qubit chief executive Graham Cooke has also experienced. “A lot of our fashion customers are seeing the tablet as the number one browser device used in the evening - some have 40% to 50%of their customers browsing in this way at this time,” he says. But while such knowledge presents an opportunity, this data can be gathered only if customers identify themselves.

Shirt retailer TM Lewin uses an analytics tool that shows who shopped using what browser and which device. But as head of customer relationship management Guillaume Brocart points out this is only possible when a user has logged in: “Once a customer has logged in you can do a lot more on the website. We want to be able to display the best banners and the best prices that correspond to each person but we can only do that if the person has logged in.”

Steve Thomas, chief technology officer of retail technology provider Omnico Group, which works with retailers including House of Fraser, agrees that identifying the customer in any channel - whether through a loyalty card, email address or payment card - is hugely important. “You need to make the identification of that customer as seamless as possible, so that it doesn’t get in the way of the customer activity and isn’t a hindrance,” he says, adding that one leading high street chain is considering facial recognition in store to identify loyal customers.

Michael Ross, director of ecommerce consultancy eCommera, points out that a lot of physical retail transaction is anonymous. “People aren’t systematically identifying themselves at in-store checkouts, but that will change,” he says.

Brocart says TM Lewin is working towards establishing a link between its in-store data and its main database by changing its EPoS system, a move scheduled to go live in 2014. “Regardless of where our customer shops we will know what they bought, when and where,” he says.

Once data is gathered it needs to be analysed, something Ross says is a creative process rooted in knowing which questions to ask. Shop Direct head of insight Richard Boston adds that one of the biggest challenges is being able to quickly understand where the value lies. “Most customers will visit and revisit a site several times and browse a number of pages as part of their regular behaviour,” he says. “This behaviour creates a rich browsing data profile, which needs interrogating and structuring to gain maximum value.”

The retailer has been working with Celebrus Technologies to gain a single customer view across multiple devices, with about 90% of its customer data now flowing into a single warehouse.

Littler says BrandAlley is investing in more data analysis in-house, adding that it also tests and retests any proposition against its audience to ensure any interpretations of the data are correct. “It is a constant test and learn,” she says.

Some in the fashion industry are already seeing results. TM Lewin works with marketing technology provider Silverpop, which has enabled the company to use data to move away from mass discount emails to segmented promotions according to spend and habits. “We protect our margins a lot more as a result and our revenue has gone up a lot,” says Brocart.

Shop Direct has halved the number of catalogues it prints in the past year as a result of being able to make more informed data-driven decisions about effectiveness, as well as improving campaign conversion and retention rates by developing more advanced marketing campaigns. “In email marketing alone we’ve generated a 28% uplift in incremental sales per email sent,” says Boston.

Littler says BrandAlley will soon launch its new customer relationship management strategy and website, using its more granular approach to improve the shopping experience across any device. Meanwhile, Robb says Farfetch plans to carry out more personalised merchandising: “By having a better understanding of email addresses by looking at what people do on site, we will be able to present much more relevant product information to people.”

Ross admits bigger retailers are advantaged when it comes to achieving a single customer view but says: “If you know what you’re doing it’s very cheap - one excellent person is better than 50 mediocre people.” Technology is also increasingly being developed that “essentially puts an analyst into a piece of software”, he adds, so even the smallest retailers can embrace this profound shift.

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