​Coles Group eyes data from customer in-store tracking

As Coles Group looks to remain relevant to its customers, the grocery giant is looking into the idea of in-store tracking to boost its data collection capabilities.

Australian grocery chain giant Coles currently gains valuable data on its customers' purchasing habits, but only if they use the company's loyalty card upon checkout either online or on in-store.

While the data aggregated at those touch points is beneficial to the company, Melissa Ross, head of digital experience at Coles Group, said it tends to result in the organisation making assumptions on customers it has less insight into, based on others who purchase similar items.

Nirvana in any customer-dependent organisation is having the data to learn the ins and outs of everyone who accesses its products, and Ross said Coles Group is thinking about in-store tracking to fill the gaps in getting to know its customers better.

"At the moment, we aren't exactly tracking people in stores, but we are testing the technology to understand where people are spending most of their time," Ross explained.

"We are doing that, but there's lots of different emerging technology that we are playing with to understand more about where to invest to help our customers."

Owned by Australian heavyweight Wesfarmers, Coles Group comprises Coles, coles.com.au, Coles Express, supermarket competitor Bi-Lo, Liquorland, First Choice Liquor, Vintage Cellars, as well as Coles Financial Services and Spirit Hotels.

Wesfarmers also has a loyalty program, FlyBuys, that is used across most of its customer-facing entities.

The aggregation of FlyBuys data has been a focus of Coles Group, with a range of marketing initiatives tailored around the data collected on the loyalty card for many years now.

One initiative is a weekly specials email that is sent to customers based on their buying behaviour.

According to Ross, Coles Group tailors about 2 million "one-on-one" conversations on a weekly basis via FlyBuys.

"It's about how we can make sure that we're getting relevant offers and information about new products that are coming out based on what their history with us has been," she told journalists at an Oracle customer roundtable in Sydney.

Having been with Coles Group for only nine months, Ross is focused on aggregating all of the data the business has across each siloed company -- and even within each company's different verticals -- on an individual.

But as the personalisation of offers and services is dependent on whether a customer has a loyalty card -- and whether they opt in to the program -- Ross said it is a challenge to remain relevant to Coles' customers.

"One of the big things about customer experience is people go through different journeys in life, and so those preferences are going to be continually changing as well; we need to make sure we're remaining relevant as people change," she said.

"If I'm getting information from any of the brands under Coles [as a customer], it needs to actually be doing something for me. I don't want to be spammed by information that isn't relevant."

The philosophy Coles Group has been trying to implement is that everyone within the organisation owns the customer, with Ross noting that it is the responsibility of its 110,000-plus staff members to drive the customer experience via its data.

"We do have a rapidly changing retail environment which we are trying to move through," Ross added. "What it's really about for us is running our own race and making sure that we're coming together as one group so we can leverage each other's capabilities and make it more relevant for our customers.

"One of the big things for us is how do we actually begin to break through some of the silos across the businesses, but also to simplify ourselves internally so we can move at a rapid pace as well."

Another challenge for Coles Group, Ross said, is customer expectations, which are moving really quickly thanks to platforms like Uber.

"Our whole organisation is about the customer. We don't exist if we aren't remaining relevant," she explained. "Customers have the expectation that you are using this information correctly and not to waste their time, basically.

"You only have a short amount of time when you're actually communicating with customers via any channel -- even face to face."

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