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How Important Is the Customer in Multichannel Retail?

This article was first featured in Commerce Insights – for more fresh and interesting insights click here.

In a not-too-distant future, there will be a personal data ecosystem and retailers will adopt business intelligence and customer intelligence programmes using customers’ voice feeds across all channels. They will adapt their offerings according to customer journeys and improve in a continuous optimisation cycle. Customer-centric businesses will offer products and services with the consumer as the primary shareholder as opposed to the traditional monetisation of consumer data with the organisation or business as the primary shareholder.

Many firms in the high-tech, retail and banking industries are already digital masters, but even they are far from being customer-centric. A study from Capgemini Consulting and the MIT Center for Digital Business (November, 2012) points out that 26% of all retailers have built the following digital capabilities:

  • A strong overarching digital vision;
  • Excellent governance across silos;
  • Many digital initiatives generating business value in measurable ways;
  • A strong digital culture.

An important conclusion of this study is that a company can only achieve digital mastery by investing time in plotting a digital transformation strategy. Achieving a seamless journey in retail requires, more than ever, digital mastery in multichannel retail.

One of the characteristics of a robust and meaningful organisation is the ability to learn and change. With a mix of four different generations in today’s workplace, generational differences at work have become a hot topic again. An influx of the millennial generation into the workforce and an increased adoption of digital to drive business performance have changed the focus of retail to the changing relationships between their customers and their employees.

Successful firms choose to concentrate their resources on being operationally excellent, or being product excellent, or being customer intimate. This means that successful firms allocate resources so as to be excellent at different parts of their value chain. If a retailer is product excellent or operationally excellent, it will struggle to be customer intimate.

To know the customer better from a strategic perspective, companies need to adopt an information-centric approach to the customer before they can become customer-centric. This requires the collection of more profile and behaviour data, organising it to be more accessible and making much better use of it to create and sustain dialogue. Choosing what to measure is one of the most powerful means organisations have of making their strategy happen. This is unrelated to their corporate strategy being cost-leadership, differentiation or niche.

Delivering innovative multichannel experiences requires envisioning and implementing change across the organisation, but although creativity and innovation may be valued in most organisations, it may not prove to be of much value in those where success is based on cost control. This means that a cost-leadership strategy may have additional challenges and cultural changes to make when implementing a multichannel strategy.

At an operational level, many of the challenges relating to implementing the voice of the customer can be put down to existing systems and structures and lack of education, awareness and resources internally. Of course, consumers may want something, but an organisation may not be capable of providing the desired product or service because it does not have the technological capabilities. Customer-centricity created through technology is not developed in a progressive, linear fashion. Developed slowly over time, it eventually reaches the point where exploitation is possible. It is at this point that innovation becomes widespread.

While most businesses seem to have a good grasp of what the voice of the customer is and its importance, it’s not just a one-size-fits-all approach. The biggest challenge is the cultural shift that the voice of the customer requires. Within any voice-of-the-customer programme or strategy, feedback and analysis must be effectively disseminated throughout the business. Additionally, it’s important that data coming from various systems can be aggregated in order to enable businesses to achieve a joined-up view of the customer. Within most organisations there’s an overwhelming number of data sources and few connections drawn between them.

To increase complexity, tomorrow’s consumers will be managing personal data in the cloud. Data will come from smart objects, sensors, wearable technology, commercial transactions and a myriad of other digital transformation aspects. Accenture’s digital consumer survey (2014) indicates that more than half of consumers are interested in buying wearable technology. Consequently, in all these transformations in consumer behaviour, retailers will have evolved from having a defensive mind-set to having a true partnership in which information and data flow freely between themselves and the consumers. Instead of businesses extracting a limited set of preferences by inferring behaviour indirectly, the consumer will explicitly list preferences in a wide range of areas, so businesses can present products that match those preferences.

When consumers connect their everyday objects to the Internet, an opportunity arises both for the consumer and for the business that manufactures those objects. The personal data industry will evolve, with a range of services supporting consumers to manage and monitise their personal data. Digital agencies will play an important role in this future change through the facilitation of learning organisations’ programmes. Organisations that learn faster will adapt more quickly and achieve significant strategic advantages.