Unified Customer Data Is The Key To True Customer-Centricity

Retailers may believe they’re already well on the path to customer-centricity, and that only a few tweaks — such as making shoppers’ online activity visible to in-store associates — are needed to seal the deal. Unfortunately, customer-centricity is a much more complicated proposition than it first appears, so much so that a respected retail industry expert goes so far as to say that no retailers are currently customer-centric.

Customer-centricity doesn’t happen overnight, so retailers need to go all the way back to the basics and:

  • Maintain a clean and current customer database, built by collecting any and all information about the customer from across all touch points;
  • Engage with customers before, during and after transactions through all channels, and make every interaction with the customer as relevant as possible; and
  • Have a clear value proposition that revolves around the customer and starts with the C-suite.

Retailers Are Still Uncertain Of What Customers Want

The disconnect between retailers and shoppers reveals that it’s not easy to have a customer-centric retail strategy, and retailers shouldn’t assume they know what their customers actually want.

“For all of the talk about getting close to the customer, I will say that no retailer is customer-centric,” said Vicki Cantrell, former SVP of Communities at the NRF and Executive Director of Shop.Org, during a session at the 2017 Retail Innovation Conference. “There are some that are leaders, that are doing amazing things with some innovative thought processes and great customer initiatives. But I’m telling you, you are not customer-centric. You can say it all day, but you are not.”

There’s a lot of evidence supporting Cantrell’s assertion. In fact, according to a 2016 study from RetailNext and Forrester, a significant percentage of retailers don’t realize what matters most to their customers:

  • Only 49% of consumer respondents stated that they receive a consistent experience across all channels;
  • 79% of respondents reported pricing consistency as a critical or important requirement, while only 52% of retailers agreed; and
  • Retailers put emphasis on unified wish lists and shopping carts, but consumers ranked these capabilities as unnecessary.

Retailers suffer from a number of deeply embedded structural issues that, despite their good intentions, keep them from achieving higher levels of customer-centricity. For retailers that do believe they are in fact customer-centric, Cantrell poses three basic questions that, when answered honestly, give retailers a truer picture of their actual customer-centricity:

  • “Is the financial structure in your company in any way, shape or form related to a channel? If ‘yes,’ you are not customer-centric,” said Cantrell.
  • “Are your store, bonus, commission strategies, or the way you reward employees and do yearly bonus plans related to a channel? If so, you are not customer-centric.”
  • “If your customer data is in more than one place or if you don’t have all the pieces you need, you are not customer-centric.”

Customer-Centricity Differs Among Retail Categories

Customer-centricity starts with attaining the “Holy Grail” of engagement: a unified view of the customer. The idea of understanding what consumers want and how the retailer should move forward to meet those desires is another challenge.

“The best way to describe the retail environment when talking about customer-centricity today is retailers…