Small Data and the Art (and Science) of Merchandising

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Reaching and engaging today’s social, mobile consumer creates unique challenges for retailers. With more than one billion Facebook users, and nearly everyone on the planet with a mobile phone, there’s never been more potential to reach new audiences, deliver compelling omni-channel experiences, and gather new insights on consumer likes and dislikes. Yet these same trends have also created new distractions, potential threats (and opportunities) from the phenomenon of “showrooming,” and a shortage of expertise for sifting through and make sense of a growing mountain of customer data.

Against this backdrop, the importance of connecting with buyers via tailored offers, recommendations, and experiences has never been more important. Even in B2B, among best-in-class content marketers, 71% tailor content to a profile of the decision maker, according to a recent CMI/MarketingProfs study. But at the same time, delivering convenience and bringing your brand and data to where your customers are, and factoring in the role of influencers, product reviews, and word of mouth needs to be in the mix as well. Clearly, in this environment, merchandising is both an art and a science!

This is why I’ve been seeing a tremendous opportunity for retailers who embrace their customer data as a both an asset and a product, and also invest in the notion of small data by tapping digital breadcrumbs, social signals, and profile information (as sources) and committing to making insights actionable and available to (the broadest set of) staff and customers alike. In fact it’s a theme that I’ve validated in several discussions with retail consultants, planners, and merchandising professionals over the past several months.

The end goal is greater understanding, better performing campaigns, and a more rewarding experience for your customers.

More specifically, as I recently discussed in a Digital Clarity Group Brief sponsored by my friends at SDL (you can download the paper as well as some excellent presentations here), it’s clear that:

  • Retailers can boost their understanding of customers and better serve them (on their own terms) across all channels by looking to blend transactional processes and insights with social interactions and data.
  • Innovators are focusing on making insights actionable via recommendations and predictive targeting, smart apps/kiosks for associates, and location-based offers.
  • There are clear benefits to thinking small – targeting local campaigns and data, starting with high potential segments, and streamlining key stages of the path to purchase.

Most importantly, we can’t forget to ask customers what they think. Encourage social feedback and make it easy to share offers with friends. If you can’t measure it (conversions, sharing, etc.), don’t do it!

The bottom line as retailers look to position their products, create timely and compelling offers, and deliver on the promise of true omni-channel commerce, is to leverage all insights to streamline back-end processes and simplify front-end interactions. This means chunking down the path to purchase, and looking for ways to present the right product at the right time, offer help (if needed), and make it easy for consumers to finish their journey.

What do you think? Do you buy it?

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