For many consumer-facing industries, the notion of Big Data seems cold and impersonal – and retail is no exception.
At best, it’s Minority Report, in which a retinal scan personalizes the advertising on a digital display to you and your needs. It feels like technology for technology’s sake. It shouts, “Look what we made!” when it should quietly say, “See how this experience made you feel.”
Retailers, we struggle with accurately and creatively articulating technology’s transformative role in our industry’s future. That’s a shame because our future is one in which technology is elegant, useful, and understated – in a word, beautiful.
Data is reshaping the buying experience.
Amazon is the obvious standard-setter here, obviously. Every time you visit Amazon, your experience is highly personalized, making it super easy to find the products most suited to you out of 350M SKU’s. But what stands out here is exactly what doesn’t stand out: the technology. It’s not flashy and in-your-face. It’s operating behind the scenes, like the stage manager for Hamilton, constantly making the quick and subtle adjustments so the front-of-house experience is a delight that brings audiences (e.g. shoppers) back time and again. All you see is a homepage that shows you what you need and might want – not one time, but every single time. All day, every day.
It’s about offline experiences that stand out.
I recently chatted with a CEO of a prominent luxury brand. Technology, he said, is a distraction – and in his stores, conspicuous technology is intentionally removed. He said that the always-connected life has turned into a burden for most of us, the weight of which is not always apparent as we shoulder it. (That’s not an exaggeration: prescriptions of sleeping pills are at an all-time high, coincident with skyrocketing rates of depression. Similarly, our national drug epidemic is opioid-based, a class of drugs that slows people down – a big change from the coke-fueled, pre-social media 1980s).
In his stores, the experience centers on serenity, on making a welcoming place of calm and relaxation. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at the notion, but he’s clearly cracked a code: the brand’s doing extremely well. In part, it’s because they’ve built an experience that adheres to their brand identity. Customers are welcomed to a beautiful store by knowledgeable associates, who invite them to sit down and offer them a glass of sparkling water. No futuristic technology here – just an on-brand, enjoyable experience shaped by what customers expect.
Data is creating stores that are really playgrounds.
We should stop assigning so much weight to store performance and worry more about turning them into product playgrounds for shoppers. Apple’s Angela Ahrendts just underscored the point when she recently commented that stores need to be 80 percent about the experience and 20 percent about shopping to stand out against the relative ease and speed of e-commerce. Apple – as we all know – does this very well and clearly is constantly rethinking the model, what else they might offer, etc. Whatever your brand is, if you have a physical presence, give yourself and your team permission to get creative. If you were a customer, what would entice you to buy – whether that purchase is made in the store or online later at home? Whatever the answer is, do that.
Data will provide that single view of the customer.
In retail, that phrase – “single view of the customer” – is tossed around constantly. It’s important to note that many retailers have done a reasonable job of creating a “single view” of their customers, with one exception: there is often no visibility into what shoppers are doing in the store. Data from mobile, online, loyalty, and other sources is pooled centrally in a CDP or CRM, but there is a huge information gap as to what shoppers are doing (on a one-to-one basis, only with permission) when in a store. 90 percent of sales take place in stores so it’s hard to understate the big miss that is not having visibility into the store as part of an omni-channel view.
Retail has yet to articulate Big Data’s benefits to consumers in a way that resonates. But the advantages are absolutely clear. Data powers exceptional technology that creates efficient, personal and enjoyable customer buying experiences – all without being showy or in-your-face about the innovation itself. When customers get what they need, via an experience they like – each and every time – we all win. It doesn’t get simpler – or more compelling – than that.