Has a single view of the customer finally arrived?

By Matt Jeffers, Associate Director of Javelin Group’s Strategy practice.

Customer-centricity is returning to retail

“eCommerce is dead, long live commerce!” These were the words of J. A. Granjon, founder and CEO of Vente-Privée.com, at the recent World Retail Congress. This statement summarises current observations that pure-plays are declining, and that all retailers will soon need to be multi-channel. To succeed in multi-channel, retailers must return to a core tenet of the industry – customer-centricity.

Retailers have focused their attention in recent years on the development of multiple channels and customer touch-points. Now that these are in place, retailers need to revert to focusing on the customer to ensure they are reaping the benefits of the data-rich multi-channel world.

Single view of the customer, a sluggish uptake

While the development of multiple channels has added complexity to the understanding of our customer, their increasing digitalisation has also provided us with a wealth of data. Marketers and IT consultancies have long been advocating the development of the ‘Single View of the Customer’ (SVC) as a necessary lever to efficient customer-centricity. The ultimate goal of SVC is a coherent and holistic view of each individual customer across channels, with the objective to optimise customer lifetime value.

While the rationale for SVC is easy to understand we have seen very few examples of successful implementations by retailers today. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Retailers have had their hands full focusing on their existing operations in a competitive environment with minimal growth – even maintaining market share has required great effort;
  • The store environment has remained the missing piece of the jigsaw. Capturing information in store and linking it to individual customers remained difficult until recently;
  • By its very nature SVC requires a systematic approach encompassing all key functions within an organisation and across all channels. This provides a significant hurdle as it means SVC needs to be made a top priority for all stakeholders not just those closest to the relevant channel;
  • Returns on SVC have yet to be successfully demonstrated – therefore the benefits remain theoretical. The natural consequence of this is that investment cases are difficult to build and defend against proven initiatives.

It would be wrong, however, to assume that retailers have stood still on this topic. Some have invested significantly in new platforms which will help to merge data across channels and get closer to obtaining SVC. Examples include the new loyalty programme of John Lewis and the planned multi-channel platforms of Marks & Spencer and Walmart.

Mobile data will provide the missing link

Despite the investment in systems, it will not provide SVC without the use of mobile data which can effectively bind all the channels together. Mobile payments, passive apps and geo-location will enable retailers to identify and digitalise the in-store experience of their customers. Already trials such as PayPal’s new payment system based on individual identification or Walmart’s Scan & Go offer great insight into the future digitalisation of in-store customer behaviour.

As this major hurdle is removed, we would expect retailers to seek to leverage this new wealth of data and capitalise on insights. At that point we should not forget that SVC is only a means to an end; it needs to be leveraged effectively through the business to generate top and bottom-line benefits. While the current industry discourse concentrates almost exclusively on data reconciliation and analytics, very little has been done to re-align the retail organisation to leverage this customer-focused approach.

Preparing to leverage SVC in tomorrow’s world

As SVC data becomes available, retailers looking to capture real value from it will need to re-align their business. Today’s organisations are essentially channel-focused; in the future it will become increasingly difficult to justify the allocation of sales across channels and individual customer lifetime value will become the key measure. Channels will be expected to join the support functions as customer segments become the primary axis for the organisation.

Single view initiatives will need to start at the strategic level, steering the business to respond to customer needs, driving changes to the more tactical and operational levels. As customers come to expect improved and increasingly personalised service the business will need to integrate its view of the customer and continuously adjust itself to its customer base and its many unique constituents.

We have been discussing the concept of SVC for a long time, but with the investment in systems and the rise of mobile data, attaining a single view of the customer will shortly become a reality.

First published in: Essential Retail

For further information, please contact Matt Jeffers.

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