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Retailers Are Still Struggling to Put the Customer at the Center of Business: New Report Examines Obstacles

Individual customer service and CRMTop Five Keys to Building a Customer-Centric Retail Model Revealed

Nearly 70 percent of retailers are still struggling to evolve from an omnichannel model to one that truly puts the customer front and center, according to new research from strategic consulting firm The O Alliance. The firm recently released its new industry study and research report, created in partnership with Revmetrix, which also uncovered five key strategies necessary to drive this transition.

The report, Retail Transformation Underway: Achieving Customer-Centric Commerce, examined critical self-assessments of 150 senior executives from across all sectors of the industry, and categorized respondents into three groups:

  • Leaders, which have taken steps to better understand consumer data and invest in customer insights, technology and organizational redesign;
  • Followers, which have big plans to move towards customer-centric business and have made some progress; and
  • Bystanders, which showed a lack of meaningful progress or plans.

“Customer-facing tools such as smartphones, tablets and in-store kiosks have become mission critical to the shopping experience, yet most retailers still have not integrated these tools into a cohesive system that creates circular commerce,” said Andrea Weiss, founder of The O Alliance, in a news release. “While omnichannel was about giving shoppers a single view of a brand across all touch-points, the customer-centric model is about giving the brand a single view of the shopper, understanding who she is, what she wants, and how she behaves at all times.”

The report unveiled the following key strategies leveraged by retail Leaders to successfully achieve customer centricity:

  1. Track a Customer’s Behavior Across Channels. As technology continues to enable customers to engage across multiple channels, the task of tracking a single customer across a brand’s entire universe becomes more and more challenging. In fact, fewer than 43 percent of Bystanders are using data to effectively segment customers and only 14 percent are leveraging data to understand and map the customer journey. To achieve true customer centricity, retailers must connect a shopper’s activities online, in store, on social media and via mobile apps to create a universal customer profile.
  2. Measure Success of Cross-Channel Marketing. While the majority of the industry (70 percent) has evolved to using cross-channel promotions (i.e. email campaigns to drive in-store purchases), nearly half (48 percent) of all retailers still lack the ability to measure the success of these very campaigns. Customer-centric Leaders are implementing tools that provide a strategic view into each campaign, allowing them to gauge effectiveness, attribute credit to the proper promotion or channel, and leverage that insight to drive future marketing decisions.
  3. Centralize Data Solutions. Many retailers still lack the proper integration solutions to effectively manage a cross-channel shopping experience. In fact, 37 percent of companies are not combining e-commerce and in-store transaction data in a central database, and only 9 percent currently link social media activity to their customer data files. Leaders however, are adopting flexible, cloud-based solutions that allow them to easily access all product and customer information in one centralized place.
  4. Structure a Customer-Centric Organization. While most companies recognize the importance of integrating business functions across channels, it’s the aggressive Leaders that are actually implementing this change, with 97 percent reporting they have integrated at least one team to date. Further, Leaders are taking steps to address the talent and leadership issues demanded by these changes, as 43 percent stated that they either have, or plan to have, a C-level executive in a customer centric role.
  5. Crush Obstacles to Customer Centricity. Though retailers readily identify various obstacles to achieving a customer-centric model, including inadequate talent (33 percent), organizational silos (29 percent), cash restraints (28 percent), questioning the promise of technology (26 percent), and lack of leadership vision (20 percent), the solution does not lie in a quick fix of any one business component. Seamless Circular Commerce will only be achieved through directional shifts across all areas of the company—from CMO and CIO offices, to Human Resources, Finance, Executive Committees and Boards.

In what represented the largest independent data survey on the state of customer-centricity in the retail industry, the study surveyed more than 150 senior executives representing more than 100 retailers in North America and Europe. Participants, who were asked for critical self-assessments of their organizations’ progress in achieving circular commerce, included C-level executives, as well as EVPs, SVPs and VPs. 90 percent of the respondents operate both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce stores. Participants responded to a survey conducted just prior to the 2015 Black Friday shopping weekend and during the Holiday 2015 Cyber weeks.

Source: Business Wire; edited by Richard Carufel

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