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Building a continuous customer view

The single customer view is at the forefront of retailers’ minds, but GDPR and continuing customer concerns about privacy mean it is no easy win

Advances in technology have made it easier than ever to achieve the holy grail of a single customer view – a holistic representation of a customer’s data across all touchpoints.

Retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Missguided and Mulberry tackled the topic of how they are approaching their data at a Drapers roundtable at 30 St Mary Axe in the City of London last month, in partnership with data specialist Tealium.

John Allen, chief technology officer at Missguided, believes it is important to view customer data in real time rather than basing it solely on past behaviour – and that the notion of a single view of the customer is already outdated.

“We are striving for a continuous view of the customer, rather than a single customer view,” he said. “I’m talking about looking at the experiences a customer has on their journey, not what they did.”

He is keen to ensure a customer who has opened a complaint is not also sent marketing communications: “These departments are not connected, and it would not be unreasonable to say I don’t think any organisation around this table has got that right yet.”

Hannya Boulos, senior international ecommerce manager at M&S, warned against an over-reliance on past shopping behaviour data: “If you are so reliant on past transactional data, your assumptions quickly get outdated and you are making decisions based on past information that is potentially not relevant to where your customers are in the journey.”

“The single customer view is a funny thing. It was in vogue in the past and then went out of fashion because no one could make it work, but now people can,” said Tom Sowerby, sales director for retail at Tealium.

Sophie Williams, digital marketing manager at Mulberry, said it is still not easy, however. Even though the luxury brand’s shoppers are happy to share their data, achieving a single customer view is her biggest challenge. Around 80% of Mulberry’s customer data comes from its stores, and 85% of customers are willing to sign up to marketing communications when asked in store.

“We’ve been trying to fully integrate our data for about five years, and we are still a long way off,” said Williams. “We know we have customers who shop both [online and in store], but we are not sure who they are really. Store data is built on one system and online data is built on another, and we are trying to marry them together.”

The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has thrown up a new raft of challenges for retailers, but it has forced them to get their data in order.

Simon Graves, senior data management and governance manager at the Data and Analytics Centre of Excellence at Sainsbury’s, called GDPR a “reset button”: “We will have less data but we will have richer data, and it is just who exploits that richer data first that will decide the winners in this.”

Mulberry has had a “big clear-out” of data as a result of GDPR, which Williams described as a positive because the retailer “had a lot of legacy data that probably wasn’t actually that relevant any more”.

Allen thought GDPR had proved beneficial for customers and retailers, but admitted it had created new considerations: “We have additional challenges around explicit permission and have to continually ask the customer throughout the process how and where we can use their data.”

Sowerby believes the secret to receiving customer permission is to give something back in return, but said “there are no cheap wins any more”.

Alex Ives, enterprise architect at Boden, admitted the retailer is still “struggling with getting data out of customers in physical stores”. He questioned how far a retailer could go without abusing a customer’s trust, highlighting how retailers could stitch together payment data from online and offline purchases if they use the same payment provider for both.

Retailers must constantly determine what customers find acceptable. Facial recognition, for example, grants the ability to identify customers in store, but comes with significant difficulties.

“The technology is there to do facial recognition, but that is just freaky,” said Allen. “I think that personalisation piece has to start with either implicit or explicit permission, otherwise all you are doing is creating a really weird experience.”

Boden is wary of technology such as facial recognition, said Steven Lovenberry, head of financial analysis: “Doing facial recognition in store or similar would be pushing the trust barrier. I don’t think we have the customer demographic that would appreciate that straight off the bat.”

Robyn Blake, international digital marketing manager at M&S, pointed out that luxury label Rebecca Minkoff has implemented facial recognition and made large strides in linking physical and digital retail: “High street and fast fashion can learn a lot from luxury, and how much they invest in the customer and the long-term view, but making that scalable and getting the return on investment is quite difficult.”

Achieving a single customer view is not only a question of technology and investment, but requires the correct processes and buy-in from all staff.

“There is a challenge for a lot of retailers to shift from the top how the actual stores work,” said Beth Wond, head of digital strategy at young fashion brand Nobody’s Child. She said there are processes that often let customers down, such as in-store staff not wanting to order out-of-stock products for customers because they would lose out on commission.

There are “a lot of empires internally” and if the single customer view is treated as another IT project it will “never get finished”, said Sowerby.

“If you treat it as an IT project, it has failed before it has even started. This is a customer project, and if you don’t put the customer at the heart, it will fail,” concluded Allen.


John Allen Chief technology officer, Missguided

Robyn Blake Digital marketing manager, international, Marks & Spencer

Hannya Boulos Senior international ecommerce manager, Marks & Spencer

Simon Graves Senior data management and governance manager, Sainsbury’s

Alex Ives Enterprise architect, Boden

Steven Lovenberry Head of financial analysis, Boden

Jelena Micunovic-Skene Digital marketing manager, Annoushka

Sophie Williams Digital marketing manager, Mulberry

Beth Wond Head of digital strategy, Nobody’s Child

Justian Grimes Sales manager, Tealium

Tom Sowerby Sales director for retail, Tealium

Rebecca Thomson Head of commercial content, Drapers

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