Beyond ease of purchase and the ability to consult the opinion of other consumers, e-commerce has revolutionised the way information about a retail customer’s journey to purchase is captured.

Today, such information is captured on a more individual basis. E-commerce enables you to know what particular customers looked for, how they reached the site, what they bought, and even associated and abandoned purchases. It’s bringing retail marketers a whole new level of insight into individual buying behaviours and preferences.

Reconstructing the customer’s journey was difficult when the sole purchasing channel was the physical store and the only traceable element the purchase. At best, the customer was only identified at the checkout, which mitigated against personalised recommendations. 

Thanks to a better understanding of the journey to purchase, e-commerce has made it possible to better understand customer behaviour and react in real time with marketing promotions and offers. Distributors have considered applying these concepts across all sales channels – stores, call centres, etc (the so-called omni-channel approach). So, retailers today are challenged with fully understanding the customer journey across each one, while benefitting from greater accuracy.

This is not easy. Depending on the channel chosen by the customer, the knowledge obtained by the seller and its marketing teams in particular, is not the same: as we know, whilst at the checkout, the customer will only be recognised if they own a loyalty card or have already visited the store. But, in the latter case, it will be extremely complex to make the link with past purchases. Similarly, a website may enable the collection of data on the intention to buy but it is extremely difficult to correlate these events with the purchasing transactions if they are not made online, and in the same session. The stakes are high, given that 78% of consumers now do their research online prior to making a purchase.

Mapping the journey

One solution for the marketers is to integrate sensors into the elements that constitute a customer’s purchasing journey, then analyse and cross-reference this data to extract information from it.  Some of our customers are already engaged in this process. It all usually begins with a detailed analysis of the customer’s online journey, to collect information on intent, cross-reference it at an aggregated level with actual purchases, at the catchment-area level, for example, to determine correlations and refine segmentations. Then, this information is cross-referenced for a second time with transactional data from the physical stores and the website, which enables us to map the customer’s journey from intention to buy to the purchase or beyond. Thirdly, it’s a matter of developing a recommendation system in real time throughout the customer’s journey to drive increased sales and still more importantly greater loyalty.

In this way, marketers can start to effectively reinvent themselves. Armed with the above capabilities, they can begin to change their role within the organisation from helping to generate and convert sales leads to as focus on adding real value to the relationship with the customer above and beyond the immediate commercial driver of boosting the bottom line today. In line with this, we see the main future challenge for marketing departments across the retail sector as lying in the value-added services that they may be able to provide to customers, to accompany their products or services.

Consumers have learnt to be wary of digital technology. More than ever, they will only be inclined to share information on their intentions and their profiles if their trust has been gained and they can perceive benefit in it.

How do you create this trust? Via value-added services: when consumers see that their interests are being considered, they do not feel constrained or trapped by a commercial logic that is beyond them.

Amazon, with its “1-Click” ordering, has shown the way. In other sectors, such as the taxi industry, newcomers have gone even further, revolutionising the customer’s journey by utilising digital technology, from searching for a service to payment through a range of innovative services that make the customer’s life easier, such as the automated capture of expense forms.

In a world in which advertising and tracking are increasingly present, data analysis carried out with the sole aim of commercial transformation is doomed to failure, as it is based on an imbalance between the benefits offered to the customer and those gained by the supplier. Until now, personalisation in retail has tended to limit itself to measuring itself in conversion rates, except for distributors, which have increasingly relied on customer loyalty.

Multichannel is not the invention of the distributors but a reaction to consumers’ wishes. Think about it, even Amazon is going to start opening physical stores. Why? Because it has fully understood that a key element was missing in its bid to become better acquainted with its customers’ journey, while responding more effectively to their wishes.