Retailers need to get creative with data

Merchants need to go beyond simple analysis when mining internal data to personalize their engagement with customers, and retooling their IT infrastructure is necessary to achieve such goals.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Big data has been one of the buzzwords in the IT industry for the year, and it is easy to get swept along with the hype and excitement of it all. But it is not sufficient to use big data analytics in a piecemeal fashion, as this provides limited insights and is ultimately an unsustainable initiative.

Speaking during her keynote at the Big Data World Asia conference held here Thursday, Alison Henriksen, CFO of Specialty Fashion Group, noted that beyond the tangible assets listed on the company's financial report, it is its customer database that is the biggest asset. Specialty Fashion Group (SFG) is one of the larger fashion retailers in the Australasia region with its base in Australia.

This is because by mining the database, the company is able to embark on personalizing its messaging and engagement with customers, Henriksen said. Such capability is increasingly important for retailers to stand out from the crowd as they need to offer relevance to the products they pitch to companies, she explained.

Additionally, the effort put in to mine the database is also a form of "listening" to the customers' needs, although executing the plan to provide these needs is equally important, the executive added.

Adding the personal touch
In response to these industry demands, SFG carved out a wholly-owned subsidiary from its pool of employees called Noodlebox which currently boasts six full-time staff comprising data analysts and creative customer marketing professionals, she revealed. The group specializes in translating complex customer intelligence to deliver bespoke multichannel marketing strategies, according to its Web site.

One of Noodlebox's key functions is to consolidate the data collected from every customer interaction touch point and make sense of the patterns. Using the information, it could then figure out when is the best time to contact the customer regarding new arrivals or special promotions depending on her shopping history with the different brands SFG carry, Henriksen explained.

SFG now also knows, by looking at the data, that it cannot differentiate its brand by the channel customers purchase products from, as this is not how consumers think. Instead, retailers need to adopt a holistic, "omnichannel" marketing strategy to engage their clientele, she suggested.

To illustrate this, the executive noted for a customer whom SFG engages via e-mail blasts, online purchases and visits to physical shops, she has a 2.8 times value of engagement to the company. Conversely, for customers who go beyond the mentioned touch points and are more deeply engaged with the brand, they bring up to 30 times the value of engagement and would be more loyal to the brand than the former, Henriksen explained.

Value of engagement would refer to more than just what a customer might purchase from the brand, but the positive reviews and brand advocacy she would bring to her social circle, she noted. 

Common IT platforms vital
For all these integrated marketing initiatives and campaigns to work though, retailers should relook their existing IT infrastructure and consider retooling them into a more consistent, transversal platform across regional outposts, said Stephen Mosely, president and managing director at L'Oreal Hong Kong.

Mosely, who also gave a keynote presentation at the conference Thursday, said companies need to build common technical synergies around all customer touch points to allow them to more effectively mine for relevant, business-changing insights.

Customer databases, for instance, should be transversal and be able to communicate with each other across different markets or the information will stay in silos and not be as useful, he said.

"If retailers don't do so, their IT systems can quickly grow into an unmanageable mess," the executive warned.

He added customer relationship management (CRM), digital monitoring and data collection are systems that should be based on a common platform too.

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