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How To Improve Customer Experience With Single Customer View

By Pitney Bowes

By Andy Berry - VP EMEA Software Solutions at Pitney Bowes

In what the fashion world is calling ‘Insta-gratification’, speed-to-market has become a priority. Following the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, the first bride to be seen wearing a replica dress was pictured within 36 hours.

The industry isn’t standing still, and this speed-to-market continues to accelerate at pace. Our connected physical and digital world fuels a demand for immediacy. For retailers, being first-to-market carries more than kudos. It generates its own publicity, as bloggers and vloggers, Instagrammers, Snapchat snappers and Facebook photographers share and interact with fresh multimedia content.

Retailers need to be able to provide this ‘Insta-gratification’, and this article will take a look at how to do that. 

Immediate demand for immediate satisfaction

Ed Gribbin, President, Alvanon — an apparel consulting and data solutions firm — believes that until around 2008, retailers ‘owned’ the customer and there was little disruption in speed-to-market. Product development calendars were 14- 20 months.

Now, everything has changed: “Shoppers can find what they want, when they want it, and in many cases dictate just how much they’ll pay for it”, says Gribbin, quoted in The Robin Report. Like many retail experts, he cites Spanish store Zara as being a major industry disruptor in speed-to-market. They shop new items to their stores 24-26 times a year, keeping stock fresh and maintaining consumer interest.

New York, London, Milan, and Paris have all recently played host to the glamour of Fashion Week, when the bright eyes of the fashion world turn to the runway and designers showcase their creativity.

As the shows come to a close, retailers are under pressure to swiftly identify key trends, commission collections and replicate designs. It’s the same with the Academy Awards, as retailers rush to satisfy the desire for consumers to channel their favourite celebrity’s red carpet style.  

In a world where digital influencers are empowered and esteemed, being the first person to be photographed in a dress seen on the runway just hours earlier – or even just sharing the photograph - enhances social reputation, deepens social influence and enhances a brand’s reputation, credibility and performance.

At London Fashion Week last year, brands including TopShop and Burberry launched a selection of designs which customers could buy immediately after their shows. TopShop enabled consumers to browse and buy TopShop Unique pieces in store, online and at the company’s London Fashion Week show. Burberry also offered a similar service, responding to their clients’ insatiable appetite for a fast turnaround of designs. 

Understanding what matters to their customers, online retailers can respond to this demand for immediacy in unique and engaging ways, using physical and digital channels to create a differentiated customer experience. But despite advanced modelling techniques, the anticipation and forecasting of buyer behaviour continues to present a major challenge for retailers, who cannot run the risk of an outdated inventory and excess stock.

Single Customer View — the answer to the fast fashion forecasting challenge

The answer to the speed-to-market challenge could just lie in the creation of a Single Customer View – a detailed, analytical customer profile built on real-time data, which draws together intelligence gathered across physical and digital channels. 

Generating a Single Customer View enables retailers to work with trusted profiles of each online retail customer across each channel, building a complete picture of how, when, where and why they engage. Armed with this information by connecting different data sets, store multi-channel retailers can deliver a rich and informed customer experience, engaging with customers at relevant points in the buying process.

A report entitled “The Four Secrets of Customer Loyalty from Successful Retailers”  found 89% of online retail customers expressed frustration over the loss of context that happens when they switch between channels: perhaps adding an item to your online shopping basket using your mobile and find it’s gone when you log on from your tablet later that day; or a sales assistant in-store having no record of your online shopping history.

A retailer being unable to join the dots between physical and digital touchpoints generates a frustrating experience for the consumer. 

Conversely, a connected, data-driven approach not only presents a more professional image and an enhanced customer experience, it also enables intelligent forecasting, and informs product development teams. As Ed Gribbin says, “Product development is not an art; it is a science, driven by data, with timely customer engagement as the primary focus”.

For the retailer, having access to consistent, accurate intelligence answers questions, generates insights and identifies trends:

  • Which of my customers would wear this design? 
  • In which colours and fabrics?
  • How much would they pay?
  • When would they wear it?
  • How do they prefer to shop?
  • Whose style do they emulate?
  • What trends do they like most?
  • How quickly would they want an item?
  • How would they want to hear about it?

Data-driven forecasting

A clear, detailed and accurate view can be built up of each individual customer, to the extent that retailers could identify – from the front row of fashion week, for example – which customers will prefer which designs, and plan accordingly.

Imagine the customer experience: a personalised email from a store saying “Did you see our show at Fashion Week? We think you’d look great in this style.  It’s similar to a dress you bought six months ago for your best friend’s birthday party. We can have it made and shipped to you in time for the weekend”. 

Retailers — indeed businesses in general — are generally not there yet.  We spoke to several hundred businesses across multiple industries in the UK, France and Germany.  76% of them said they had increased the level of personal data they were collecting over the past five years and clearly recognised the value of this intelligence, but only 24% felt they were really making the most of this information.

There is no doubt that retailers are operating in a tough climate. New Look has become the latest retailer to announce a 37.6% drop in pre-tax profits, citing the challenging UK market as a cause.  In a tough climate, innovation thrives.  Data-driven digital transformation programmes which drive reduced speed-to-market, enable accurate forecasting and generate real-time customer insight could provide the elixir for success that retailers are looking for.  

Conclusion

Prevent any delay in shoppers’ gratification by building and using the whole picture of the customer journey. Single Customer View allows you to use data from the different channels in the online retail path-to-purchase, and provide a seamless and personalised experience for the shopper.

And when you have a detailed picture of a customer’s journey, behavior, and habits, you’re able to offer them relevant suggestions — a combination of effective merchandising and good service.