Opinion published at 29/02/2016

RETAILERS' SHIFT FROM CHANNEL-CENTRIC TO CUSTOMER-CENTRIC STRATEGIES

by Katrin Schleife

Omni-channel commerce – this was by far the most heard and seen expression at this year’s EuroCIS in Düsseldorf. The solutions and services presented are particularly designed to help retailers with the challenges (and opportunities!) resulting from the increasing complexity of customer interaction points on the one hand, and the requirement of customer-centricity on the other. Retailers want to get closer to their customers, but have to find appropriate and efficient ways to do so.

Integration has become a key element of this strategy – be it the integration of the solutions and services of multiple vendors, the integration of legacy systems and new, innovative solutions, the integration of online and offline channels, the integration of a variety of data silos, the integration of front-end and back-end systems and so forth.

Call it “platform”, “hub”, “suite” or “solution marketplace” – you will find many terms for the integration offerings of IT providers. What they all have in common is that they address the great challenge of integration. For example, large players like Fujitsu (“Retail Solution Market Place”), NCR (“Retail One“ commerce hub) and Wincor Nixdorf (“TP Application Suite 6.0”) presented their innovative omni-channel platforms and related services at this year’s EuroCIS. They all claim to accelerate retailers’ shift from a channel-centric to a customer-centric approach.

But it needs to be kept in mind that solution and data integration is only one part of the picture. Omni-channel also requires the organizational integration of the various channels.

Clear target: know the customers…

Retailers are looking for efficient ways to make their customers' journey as seamless and flexible as possible. But without integrated systems and channels the target of a 360-degree view on the customer cannot be met. They need to know more about the requirements and behavior of their customers in order to provide the best possible customer experience.

However, what you see in most retail companies today is that they often collect a vast amount of data through different interaction points, but without having the right tools at hand to merge and analyze this variety of data – and thus without the option to adjust their customer strategy based on the results.

Integration platforms now provide the basis for a truly holistic view on the various data available within the company – be it customer-related (e.g. demographics, purchase history), product-related (e.g. size, color and category of an article), marketing-related (e.g. newsletter registrations, campaign management) or supply chain-related (e.g. stock availability, scheduled delivery dates etc.). Overcoming data silos allows to leverage the retailer’s wealth of data by merging all relevant data and enables comprehensive data analyses.

What is more, while in the past the focus of most analytics solutions was on the evaluation of historical data, I discussed retailers’ opportunities coming from predictive analytics with several providers at the fair – an offering many providers are working on or are already offering today (by the way, our sister company within CXP Group, BARC, is going to publish a comprehensive analysis on advanced and predictive analytics soon). Such solutions allow to take a look into the future by calculating the likelihood of future purchases by visiting customers. Based on the results, retailers can adapt, for example, their marketing strategy (e.g. frequency of customer contact, choice of channel, sort of content) in order to positively impact their customers’ buying decisions.

… and stay in touch with them!

Important to note: All those I talked to who are involved in customer experience strategies told me that one of the most important future (and present!) requirements for retailers will be to stay in touch with their customers beyond the purchase. Because loyal customers are much more likely to buy again than new ones. And retailers can even further promote this propensity to buy. Integrated IT solutions will provide the basis for this.