One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Why Retailers Need a Single View of Customers

By Marc Caltabiano | 11 Sep 2019

Consumers lie at the centre of today’s retail landscape, and their expectations regarding speed and service are shaping the future of retail. The brands that are thriving in today’s digital and connected world are listening closer than ever before to their customers.

Retailers might be surprised to find that the post-Amazon industry isn’t as doom and gloom as it might have seemed: Australian shoppers are increasingly looking for interactive experiences with products that might be difficult to fully evaluate online, such as clothing or furniture, which they often prefer to touch, feel and try on in-person. In fact, Salesforce’s ‘Shopper-First Retailing’ report found that 46 per cent of shoppers still prefer to buy in a physical store, compared to 35% on laptops and 18 per cent on mobile phones.

To understand customers’ preferences and needs, retailers must zero-in on customer data across channels via application programming interfaces (APIs). Having a well-rounded understanding of the customer rather than a siloed, channel-specific view will help inform retailers on how customers interact with the brand across channels – whether shopping online, by mobile or in the store – to ultimately create better experiences.

Modernising the retail platform

Customers expect companies to embrace emerging technology in order to deliver a better experience, and they reward those brands that go beyond the initial transaction to use tech-driven insights to maintain the relationship.

The Shopper-First Retailing report found that 64 per cent of shoppers feel retailers don’t truly know them. To bridge the personalisation gap, technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are critical tools that can offer tailored product suggestions or services based on their efficient use of customer data.

However, a single retail transaction crosses 35 different technology systems. It’s a complex IT environment, and many of these systems are outdated and built upon different technologies and formats. It creates significant integration challenges as retailers look to ‘rip and replace’ parts of systems with new technologies.

Implementing new technologies on a project basis can create more complexity and inhibit customer experience rather than enabling it. As new digital channels emerge and more devices need to be connected, each connection requires a discrete unit of development work. The combination of monolithic legacy systems and the accelerated adoption of new technologies can slow innovation.

Amid legacy obstacles, APIs are the cornerstones of building a unified channel-agnostic experience in a scalable manner to improve customer engagement.

Building a single customer view with APIs

Access to customer data is essential for retailers looking to create seamless experiences across channels. Retailers need to understand who their customers are, what their needs are and how they interact with the brand across all channels to create distinctive experiences that set them apart from competitors.

Taking an API-led approach to integrating systems across the retail ecosystem can offer an accurate, timely and unified view of the customer. In turn, the valuable data can be leveraged in a meaningful way at every point of a customer’s journey through the retailer’s API-enabled ecosystem.

For Decathlon, one of the world’s largest sporting retailers headquartered in France, it is important that customer experience – both online and in-store – remains seamless as the company continues to expand its global footstep. Recently establishing a brick-and-mortar and e-commerce presence in the United States, Decathlon built a foundation of reusable APIs to ensure the customer experience remains consistent. By using APIs to connect disparate systems and processes—such as order management and inventory data—in an application network, Decathlon can quickly leverage and reuse readily accessible applications and data as it scales globally.

Decathlon’s API-led connectivity strategy allows it to merge its physical stores and digital capabilities, thereby driving new omnichannel experiences for customers. As Decathlon found, the modern API provides an easy-to-use interface for developers to access data from any system. These APIs can then be published as reusable assets so other developers can leverage them without having to learn the inner-workings of the underlying system. In essence, APIs become the foundational building blocks of digital transformation, feeding the data that powers customers’ connected experiences.

In addition, global athletic footwear and apparel company ASICS sought to unify seven global brands onto one eCommerce platform and, thereby, create a more consistent customer experience. To achieve this goal, ASICS built reusable APIs plugged into its application network to allow its new platform to access customer information, order status, real-time inventory and pricing—all data previously held in silos. As a result, ASICS was able to reduce development time by reusing components. The company can now deploy new e-commerce capabilities 2.5 times faster supporting brand engagement and loyalty.

An API-led approach to connectivity is a critical enabler for developing a digital retail platform. With APIs, retailers can unlock core legacy systems and open up data, such as order history, product information and inventory details. Not only can these APIs be used broadly by internal developers, but they can also be made externalizable to a wider ecosystem of partners, customers and third parties to build on top of.

Continuing to evolve

Australian retailers are no longer competing against just their neighbours or local brick-and-mortar stores for a slice of the consumer pie. Now, they are also competing against global e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba, who can provide quality products and services easier than ever before.

Retailers need to put data at the heart of their business strategies and ensure they are taking part in the wider retail ecosystem versus bunkering down behind four walls. The API economy is key to this strategy, as retailers think about how to use customer data more effectively to drive seamless experiences.

Australian retailers must continue to seek innovation, but not just for innovation’s sake. Introducing new services, products or offerings based on individual customers puts the shopper first and, ultimately, rewards the retailer in the long-run by creating brand loyalty.