By Christophe Marcant, senior vice president of Strategy and Communication, Stibo Systems
Retailers are under massive pressure from global competition and the rise in both the quantity of e-commerce options and the customer loyalty attained by huge players such as Amazon and Apple. The post-sales support provided by Amazon and polished customer experience offered by Apple are not only synonymous with their brands but, in fact, are a large part of the brand itself.
So, while many will never realize the size and scope of these behemoths, there’s a lot the average retailer can do to become more competitive by creating customer experiences that match the likes of these 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 essential to the operational workflow of the business.
Today, companies have access to more data, in more dimensions, and from more sources than ever before. For retailers who haven’t yet embarked on, or solved, the Big Data riddle, it can be tempting to just go ahead and hoard all this data in an attempt to turn it into insights and actual business value with technologies such as Machine Learning. But, before turning to the latest shiny new technology, retailers need to manage the basics — their master data.
If retailers succeed in managing their master data about products, customers, suppliers, locations, assets, and more, they can achieve numerous benefits, including:
- driving additional value from existing business systems
- future-proofing operations with a flexible, scalable, and data-agnostic platform
- improving strategic agility with highly available data when and where and it is needed
- enhancing the customer experience across all sales channels
Some of the world’s most successful retailers have come to favor master data management (MDM) technology as a way to make this conversion as it provides a wide range of business benefits. But, achieving them requires an MDM solution that helps manage the complexity of data in a way that puts business goals first and helps break down the operational silos that prevent retailers from digitizing their organization. In other words, they need an MDM solution that helps them succeed by establishing a “digital business core” of trusted information that enables them to confidently transform their business.
Taking The Complexity Out Of Omni-Channel
One of the biggest benefits of MDM, particularly a business-first MDM, is its positive impact on an omni-channel retail strategy. Consumers today can choose from a myriad of touchpoints in which to interact with a brand, whether from a mobile device, a laptop, through social media, customer service or in a physical store. And, they do. Showrooming and webrooming are accepted fundamentals of today’s customer journeys.
When interacting with so many different touchpoints, consumers notice when there are inconsistencies in information about an item, whether it’s the price, stock information or a simple product description error. Whenever those discrepancies happen, their trust in the brand gets eroded, eventually bringing them to depart from the brand, both online and at the stores. In other words, we’re now far beyond the point where omni-channel is a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have.
Customers do not care about channels; they care about experiences. For that matter and from their perspective, there is only one channel — the brand. To them, the different touchpoints are different modalities associated with the same retailer. So, if customers come to a store to buy an item and discover the price on that item differs from what they have seen on the online site, they’ll get a very negative brand impression which will likely also affect this sale and possibly future ones.
As a result, product information needs to be consistent, accurate, as rich as possible, and include an abundance of information such as detailed descriptions, 360-degree images that showcase products from multiple angles, zoom functionality, and product videos. It should also include things such as customer reviews, customer-generated photos and videos, contextual information, user guides, component description, ingredients, care information, allergy information, organic and carbon miles information, and information about the availability in different stores and warehouses.
Again, all this information needs to be made available across every channel. The complexity of this exercise alone may scare some retailers, but this is where MDM can help. A master data management solution bridges the gap between different systems, departments, and regions, creating one central hub for product data with tight data governance rules applied to ensure the data quality. This data is then fed to all the needed destinations. If inconsistencies are located, they can be corrected in that one central location, and the product information is updated, in real time, to all consuming systems and customer touchpoints.
But this occurs only when product data is fed to the MDM system and this typically starts when the retailer onboards products. In this way, the MDM system is set up so the retailer specifies what information is needed, choosing a format that makes the information as easy as possible for the retailer to deploy to different channels and territories. If a supplier provides the wrong content or uses the wrong format, the product information won’t be allowed onboard.
This also has the benefit of speeding up time-to-market because the retailer doesn’t have to deal with correcting information. This saves the retailer resources, enables them to increase the number of product ranges without adding manpower, and further improves the customer experience since the retailer can react faster to new trends and offer newer and more products faster.
Need Batteries With That?
As retailers extend their operations to new territories, they also need to master multilingual and multi-territory information to support marketing to different segments, markets, and campaigns. Simply translating an English website is most often not suitable for local selling because different cultures have different needs and preferences. They shop in different ways, search for different products with different keywords, and different regions have different compliance requirements. MDM technology can be used as a tool to help retailers automate the creation of content in a sophisticated way tailored to local needs.
Another benefit of mastering product data in a product MDM platform is the ability to offer customers a dynamic product promotion flow where alternate products, relevant to what has already been reviewed, are presented. This enables retailers to improve cross- and up-sell complimentary items. This may be as simple as offering the appropriate batteries for an item, or offering suggestions for product(s) or service(s) that increase the product value, giving the customer a more relevant and complete shopping experience as well as increasing the retailer’s profit.
This is just what retailers can do to drastically improve the customer experience by leveraging the product data they already have available. However, they can take it even further by combining product data with other data types.
Adding A New Layer — Personalizing The Experience With Customer Data
Let’s face it — most online customers expect even more from retailers these days. Because retailers have more detailed customer information, consumers expect something in return in the form of personalized and targeted offers that go far beyond the “if you like this you may also like that” promotions. In fact, we’ve reached a point where retailers are expected to anticipate what consumers want to buy, how they’ll buy it, and when and where they’ll buy it.
To do that, retailers need to link their product data to their customer data. This level of personalization doesn’t just rest on tracking consumer behavior across different channels or getting their name right in an email. It also relies on understanding exactly what products a customer has purchased in the past; how, when, and where they’ve purchased it; and how they’ve used it. Retailers need to bring in data about the buying journey and the purchase history, as well as data about ratings, reviews, and social data. They need to store it within, or link it to, the product record rather than keep it in separate systems.
If information about purchase history is held in several different parts of the company — such as in CRM and ERP systems, different departments, and regions — they run the risk of inconsistencies which will impact a retailer’s ability to execute customized marketing campaigns effectively.
A master data management platform provides the link between all this information and ensures high data quality, whether applied to product data, customer data or both. A multidomain approach combines several data domains, such as product and customer data, and helps retailers create a trusted digital business core with which they can empower their competitiveness and establish the foundation to add new technologies and data-driven applications.
The bottom line is better than one would have thought as the answer to retailers’ challenge of competing with the Amazons and Apples of the world is not so complex after all. It’s a simple matter of managing the basics: the master data they already own on products and customers and, for that matter, suppliers, locations employees, and more. There’s a wealth of value in all of this data and it’s just waiting to be mined and refined with the right tool.
About The Author
Christophe Marcant is senior vice president of Strategy and Communication for Stibo Systems, the global leader in Business-first Master Data Management (MDM) ™ solutions. For more information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.stibosystems.com.