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NRF 2020: The decade of customer-data driven centricity

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

Retailers attending this year’s National Retail Federation’s (NRF) conference, 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show, confirmed that 2020 would mark the start of a decade of customer insight becoming a key differentiator.

Supported by a strategically led technology focus on the growing importance of data-driven analytics and insight, Helena Foulkes, Hudson Bay Company chief executive, stated: “The customer is most important.”

She added: “Now every meeting starts with the question, ‘what are you hearing from customers?’” And she suggested that retailers should use data to communicate what customers want up to senior management.

Foulkes said that, in the past, Saks Fifth Avenue (a Hudson Bay subsidiary) would use store data to inform online sales and marketing, where she said the retailer now reaps the benefits of the reverse effect in-store.

“We have 4,500 stylists who we’ve empowered with more digital data and tools to meet the needs and address the interests of their customers so they can close deals and sales in the store,” she explained.

If retailers aren’t harnessing the power of customer data to empower store staff, they are making efforts to fill in their customer insight gaps by investing in loyalty. US general merchandiser, Target, shared its experiences.

The US general merchandiser underlined the growing strategic importance of understanding the customer by sharing some of the rapid results it has generated as a result of recently launching a new loyalty programme.

Rick Gomez, Target chief marketing and digital officer, said multiple cashback, digital coupons and points-based schemes confused the customer. One said: “It feels like I love Target more than Target loves me.”

The comments of Gomez underlined the growing importance of loyalty for generating customer data-driven insight. But he stressed that any data collection initiatives must benefit the customer as much as the retailer.

He added that the retailer had attracted 50 million members to sign up to its streamlined Target Circle loyalty programme since it was launched in October 2019, following an 18-month beta programme.

“The beauty is in the simplicity – it’s free, there’s no membership fee or complicated process,” Gomez explained. He added that customers need only enter a phone number online or instore at the till to register.

Matthew Shay, NRF chief executive, summed up the data-based drivers that would support this trend over the next decade. “All companies are digital companies today,” he said. “If not, they are not successful.”

But Foulkes added that it is necessary to blend both online and store-based customer insight in order to best know how to understand what each retailer’s customers wants, and therefore how to best serve their needs.

Neela Montgomery, Crate and Barrel chief executive, said it was important for retailers to place a strategic focus on the digital customer journey in order to stay relevant: “Most customer journeys start online.”

“This gives us a better sense of whether they’re looking for a product like ours,” she added, saying that Crate and Barrel had invested in far more sophisticated online customer data analytics tools in the last three years.

“Increasingly, a brand is what other people say about you, not what you say about yourself," she added.