It’s not easy being a retailer these days. Amazon's customer experience has changed the game. The online retailer's broad product assortment and customer-centric strategy is forcing other retailers to up their games. Many traditional retailers are asking if they truly understand what consumers want and, more importantly, if they have what it takes to meet consumer preferences, too.
According to PwC’s Global Total Retail Survey, consumers today expect 24/7 service, real-time information and transparency on prices and product availability, as well as superior store and mobile apps. They expect the customer experience to be frictionless, yet personal. Competing on customer experience is a priority in the retail industry, but the operational requirements of delivering great experiences can be a challenge. This is because it requires retailers to maintain accurate, standardized product data across all channels, as well as achieve deep insight about their customers.
Wrong or obsolete information can have a considerable and negative impact on the customer experience, yet many retailers still store product information in internal and external servers. Worse, different computers and even service providers are creating data silos that can impact a retailer’s ability to fully understand the customer and present them with the details needed to make an informed purchase. Companies dealing with technical or SKU-heavy products are particularly challenged with getting product information right.
As a result, many retailers are looking to master data management (MDM) and/or product information management (PIM) solutions to meet consumer expectations and compete with experiences such as Amazon’s. Here are three ways to compete with Amazon's customer experience:
Boost Omnichannel Retail
Today’s omnichannel customer expects information to be instantly available and the brand experience to be transparent. According to a recent consumer study, nearly 60 percent of shoppers look up product and pricing information while using their phones in stores, and more than half are using them to compare prices with other retailers.
Digital technology has transformed how companies develop their sales models, and an omnichannel strategy is now essential to meet consumer expectations. Omnichannel is all about optimizing the different distribution channels, but that requires retailers to manage product information consistently across all channels. To remain competitive, innovative companies must offer as much relevant product information as possible, including photos, a pertinent and complete written product description, packaging information, stock information, videos, reviews, and user-generated content from customers who have already purchased the product.
However, in an omnichannel environment it's not always easy to distribute all this data across different channels. This is particularly true for retailers as the need for in-store information is significantly different than what's found in digital channels. Data often passes through disparate database systems built on external platforms or homegrown spreadsheet solutions, making the process slow and the data itself unreliable and often inadequate. To solve this issue, retailers are applying MDM solutions to automate this process and create consistency between channels. This enables retailers to collect, manage and share consistent product information with all internal departments and with external partners and suppliers, and create a unique and approved source of information for all pertinent points of contact.
Optimize Time to Market
Streamlining a product’s market launch is another area that requires clean and accurate data. Something as simple as putting a comma in the wrong place on a label or packaging could mean that the product container gets sent to Brazil instead of England. Retailers that rely on Excel spreadsheets are at high risk for delaying time to market, as critical data is often error- and duplicate-prone and highly inefficient. This is particularly important as product availability is paramount to consumers.
Using MDM, retailers can reduce time-to-market processes by making them more effective and less exposed to risks, and providing up-to-date and pertinent product data to manage customer expectations and avoid product outages.
Create Synergy Between Product Data and Customer Data
Whether internal or external, requests for information about products and customers continue to grow. Customers interact with product data through multiple channels, creating new customer data with each process. To make the best use of these digital footprints, retailers must capture, link and share product and customer data across different company departments. They also must make good use of, and have access to, data from commercial partners.
Let’s face it, most potential customers have already done their research on certain products before they ever make a purchase. They compare retailers and prices, determine which has the product in stock, search for reviews, and read articles about the product. These prospective buyers travel along a specific customer path without the company even able to identify them as a prospect. Amazon and other successful retailers understand this and are making sure they keep in contact with a potential customer throughout the product research process as they know this is an essential part of sales and brand management. Retailers that master customer and product data can identify the most popular channels and then optimize them to maximize customer loyalty. By investing in a product data management solution, companies give their teams a high-quality centralized product and customer data system, which helps them adopt a clear and consistent message on all channels.
With a MDM strategy in place, retailers can simplify the process of acquiring product information and digital resources from suppliers, and then publish this clean and reliable information through all their sales, marketing and support channels. The result? Accelerated time to market, more coherent brand messages, less manual tasks, more competitive edge, increased sales and reinforced customer loyalty.
When it comes to competing with the likes of Amazon, the bottom line is better than one would have thought. Even though many will never realize the size and scope of Amazon, there’s a lot the average retailer can do to become more competitive by creating customer experiences that match their larger counterparts.
What many don’t realize is the key to success is right under their noses. It’s the data used every single day by business users, departments and systems; the master data that's essential to the operational workflow of any business. Ensuring an enjoyable customer experience is key to being profitable and may very well be a simple matter of managing the basics — the master data they already own on products, customers, suppliers, store locations, employees and more. There’s a wealth of value in all this data, and it’s just waiting to be shared with this year’s eager shopper.
Darren Cooper is director of industry solutions for Stibo Systems, a business-first master data management (MDM) solutions provider.