reading in a bookstore
Customer data platforms make it possible for small retailers to create single customer views, and as a result, fuel omnichannel experiences PHOTO: Pj Accetturo

Consumers today undertake increasingly complex shopping journeys. Reports I’ve seen suggest that anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of shoppers use multiple channels to make a purchase. Yet for brick-and-mortar retailers, the quest to become omnichannel — the process of creating and maintaining a contextual, seamless customer experience across all of a brand’s touchpoints — is as much of a challenge now as it was five years ago. In fact, a recent survey conducted by my company, BlueVenn, found that just 28 percent of marketers say they are delivering an omnichannel experience.

This comes as no surprise to me, because many obstacles stand in the way of such an approach becoming a reality. Many retailers, of course, cope with a lack of resources and investment, but more specifically, they struggle with the ability to collect offline data and then merge online and offline data into a single customer record.

Bringing Online and Offline Data Together

Brands want to take what they learn from consumers engaging with them online and incorporate that data into a complementary offline experience, and vice versa. And digital tools like in-store beacons, click-and-collect options, endless aisle kiosks, mobile apps, product review incentives, loyalty cards and the like can be used to better understand offline behavior and fuel a consistent omnichannel experience.

However, that assumes that a business is able to merge its online and offline data successfully for multichannel analysis.

The most effective way of doing this is through the implementation of a single customer view (SCV). If you aren’t already familiar with the concept, an SCV approach involves bringing together all of a company’s data streams from its various data silos. This data is unified, deduplicated and standardized to create a single, accurate record for each customer.

This robust data source ensures that your business can treat customers appropriately and with relevant messaging. For retailers hoping to take an omnichannel approach, knowing exactly who your customers are and how they have engaged with your brand is vital to ensuring consistent treatment across all touchpoints.

Will the Real John Smith Please Stand Up

For example, if you’re planning a geographically-based email or Facebook campaign to drive a certain customer to a physical store for a sale, you will want to ensure that the John Smith whose email address you have is the same John Smith who collected loyalty points at his last in-store purchase. If you want to use offline point-of-sale data as the basis of a cross-sell email campaign, you will need to know if the address a customer gave you at the checkout counter can be linked to any existing record you hold.

The problem is that constructing an SCV is often an all-consuming undertaking that requires a big investment, which puts that strategy out of reach of smaller organizations. If omnichannel is supposed to the future of retail, is there any hope for smaller companies or boutique businesses that take pride in delivering an exceptional customer experience but don’t have a wealth of resources?

Customer Data Platforms to the Rescue

Yes, there is hope. The advent of customer data platforms (CDP) may make it a lot more feasible for small retailers to undertake SCV initiatives. CDPs, which can be made available on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis, usually include analytics, modeling and segmentation tools, and they offer the ability to create targeted omnichannel campaigns, without the need for an extensive, expensive IT investment. With a cloud-based or hybrid CDP, integration with any existing marketing tools or ecommerce platforms can be handled through APIs, removing any complex challenges related to data architecture and making it possible to connect with offline data feeds.

Moving to an omnichannel retail strategy may always involve some degree of complexity. But having a foundation of precise customer records to support personalized, multichannel campaigns, along with unified data that enables you to accurately track and engage customers across all touchpoints is key to getting out of the starting block. When these capabilities are made available to smaller businesses via CDPs delivered as SaaS applications, many more retailers will be able to enter the race.