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NRF 2020: Retailers urged to prioritise data strategies

As nearly 40,000 delegates descended on New York to attend the annual retail trade show hosted by the US National Retail Federation (NRF), data – its ownership and monetisation – emerged as this year’s main theme.

Author: Miya Knights, Head of Industry Insight at Eagle Eye Solutions Ltd.

As nearly 40,000 delegates descended on New York to attend the annual retail trade show hosted by the US National Retail Federation (NRF), data – its ownership and monetisation – emerged as this year’s main theme.

This was perhaps unsurprising, given the growing emphasis that the industry has placed on gathering and analysing data about customers and their shopping journeys as they increasingly embrace digital and online.

What to do with that data is what will separate the next decade’s retail winners and losers, according to Satya Nadella, Microsoft chief executive, who opened the 2020 show as the keynote speaker.

If the symbolism of having a tech leader address his retail counterparts wasn’t enough to prove how important technology has come to play in a retailer’s strategic success, Nadella focused specifically on the role of data.

“Retail generates a massive 40 terabytes of data per hour,” he stated. But he also challenged retailers to by asking, “What will we do with all that data?” The most important use case being customer-led.

He also suggested that retailers should data about what they sell to who and how to empower its employees, create an intelligent supply chain and reinvent its business models, which included online advertising.

Nadella said online advertising, as arguably the biggest generator and consumer of “commercial-intended consumer behaviour data,” was currently a monopoly or an oligopoly that needed overhauling.

“The question is, how can you, through your marketing efforts, convert that into effectively new online advertising channels that could benefit every brand, every supplier,” he said.

Even though it took Nadella to put the strategic theme of customer data and how to put it to work most effectively centre stage, it was obvious that the technologist struck a chord with his target audience.

In a marketing panel discussion about the power of data insight to manage customer engagement and demonstrate relevance, a consensus emerged that data acquisition, segmentation and sharing were key.

Scott Kelliher, eBay head of brand advertising and partnerships for said the online marketplace manages 1.4 billion product listings and 104 million shopping hours per month. So, it shares activity data with merchants.

“We don’t own inventory and so don’t compete with other sellers,” said Kelliher. “This means we have to share as much information about what customers do when they interact with sellers on eBay as possible.”

Becky Gebhardt, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of consumer-electronics accessory maker PopSockets, said the manufacturer needed to use its data to understand, “who is our customer?”

As a relatively new brand and product in the market, Gebhardt said it used customer data to better understand what problems it can solve to drive product innovation and meet customer demand.

“As a manufacturer, we don’t get a lot of customer data from our partners,” she added. In this context, it is easy to see how ‘direct-to-consumer’ has grown in popularity to support product development and marketing.

Jeff Weiser, chief marketing officer of ecommerce software provider Shopify, stressed the strategic advantage of developing a single customer view: “Deduping multiple entities of the same customer is very important.

“Every operation unit may need to look at and treat customers differently – from online to the store, for example – but knowing when they are dealing with the same customer is essential for omnichannel retail.”