Chasing a myth: is a single customer view really achievable?

Michael Poyser
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In today’s omni-channel retail landscape, customers can engage with a brand in multiple ways - from in-store and online, to apps and social media. However, while having an omni-channel environment is becoming critical in the fight to remain competitive and relevant in a changing world, it can sometimes impact the customer experience.

Taking a step back, retailers need to encourage shoppers to return to their brand to generate sales. But in order to drive this behaviour, retailers need to know as much as possible about their customers to ensure they offer them relevant and personalised promotions. But that’s not all. They also need to offer a good customer experience, and one that is consistent across channels, to engender loyalty and keep their customers coming back.

To get them to this point, retailers have long been pursuing the idea of a single customer view — bringing together each of the different datapoints they have about a customer, across all their channels, and then using that data to deliver a targeted and relevant shopping experience via whichever channel the customer prefers to engage.

The benefits are widespread.

Firstly, retailers have an accurate, complete view of a customer, including information about their shopping behaviour, visit frequency, how much they spend, categories they buy frequently, etc. This helps formulate a detailed understanding of the customer.

Secondly, there’s a huge benefit in having all this data in one place because it makes analysis quicker and therefore retailers can respond to customer demands more quickly.

Finally, having a single customer view ensures that all elements of the business - sales and marketing, customer experience and support, are aligned when it comes to the source of data. In essence, they’re all working off the same page, which eliminates wasted time in comparing datasets and debating differences in results.

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Creating this single customer view is all about data – bringing together different sources, gleaned from different channels and interactions, and using it to shape a customer profile in terms of attitudes and behaviours. But this proves to be a challenge too; there is always more data to consider. Often, this data isn’t entirely accurate and needs to be cleansed in order to gain value from it and combine into a single dataset.

Given the value and the benefit that the single customer view can bring retailers, how can this challenge be overcome? From our own experience as a business, the point of sale remains the most important dataset. Other data can yield information on browsing behaviour, location, marketing response, etc., but does its use result in a sale? When it comes to point of sale data, the insights it can glean relate directly to understanding a customer; for example, shopper X buys a lot of fresh produce. But insights can be inferred from this data too, such as shopper X spends more money on organic and premium products which could mean they are a more affluent consumer, or very health-conscious.
It is these key insights that can be used to shape the ongoing customer experience in terms of special offers, rewards given or tailored promotions. Data generated at the point of sale is in real-time and therefore the resulting offers will be relevant to that customer at that time.

So, what does the future hold? Is a single customer view achievable? The short answer is yes in the sense that there is tremendous benefit in centralising and combining data. The longer answer is that the journey is ongoing and will never end because datasets are constantly evolving. The danger, however, is that this may be too time-intensive and detract from achieving any usable intelligence as projects like these take years to complete and significant capital investment. Importantly, going forward, retailers should focus on higher value activity, getting those insights and not trying to deliver everything from day one.


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