Five Ways Big Data is Changing CRM for Retailers

By Connor Marsden, U.S. Lead for Microsoft Dynamics CRM

The Retail industry is in the midst of unprecedented change, with multiple innovations in technology transforming the way business is conducted. Retail companies that are unable to keep pace will face diminished prospects for growth. But for those companies that can successfully navigate this changing landscape, there is enormous potential and the opportunity to create a sustainable competitive advantage within their business.

Many of these changes result from the emergence of the “Big Data” phenomenon — the ability to gather and analyze every piece of data from every customer to spot preferences and affinities that allow the retailer to sell smarter, anticipating the consumer’s next request. Accumulating from many sources and expressed in a number of channels, Big Data is responsible for the generation of five key Customer Relationship Management (CRM) trends that retailers must recognize and manage if they expect to remain competitive:

1. Omni-channel contacts. Consumers expect to be able to interact with retailers day or night from any location. Due to the growth of smartphones, consumers have access to large amounts of data right at their fingertips. Retailers need to ensure their CRM technology keeps them in contact with customers on any platform, meeting their expectations. They also need to be prepared to stay in touch with customers by phone, email, website self-service, real-time online chat, moderated product-centered online communities, and social media (Twitter, Facebook), all supported and accessed through smartphones and tablet computers.

2. Mobile devices. Consumers have become increasingly comfortable using their smartphone or tablet to browse retailer offerings, looking for discounts and comparing products whether they are on the go or on the couch. As consumers investigate, select, pay for, and take possession of their purchases, they typically use more than one “channel” to make a single purchase decision. The mobile channel is a powerful tool in providing content and community opinions to consumers while making their purchase decisions, even when they are in the store. Increasingly, in-store consumers know more than the sales staff about the store's products, price points and competing offers. Therefore, retailers need to address the pressing need to help empower their employees to be at least as knowledgeable as consumers are about products, price, and availability. As retailers struggle to meet the demands of increasingly smarter shoppers, they are weighing the benefits of making a host of changes to the store and the role of the store associate. These changes include increasing education and training and adding technology tools like CRM to level the playing field. This is important because more informed store associates can influence a shoppers buying decisions.

3. Social Networks. Today’s retailers have recognized the need to integrate social networks into their CRM strategy. The wealth of information about consumer shopping behavior in social networks is currently untapped gold for many retailers. By using the right analytics tools within CRM technology, retailers can effectively mine this data to gain insights into what consumers want to buy and channel these insights into more effective merchandising plans. Conversely, retailers can leverage social networks to build relationships and influence what and how consumers buy.

4. Personalization. Personalizing the individual shopping experience has been complex and difficult to execute well. With today's personalization CRM technologies, research shows that recommendation tools and omni-channel personalization positively drive key metrics including revenue, conversion, average transaction value, and time-on-site. Personalization makes it possible for retailers to measure and reward the behaviors of shoppers in a way that drives loyalty, builds trust, and enforces brand differentiation.

5. Gamification. Increasingly businesses are discovering that framing their marketing and customer relationship efforts in the form of online games — quizzes, sweepstakes, hunts and other entertaining ways to engage — keeps customers coming back to their websites and their stores. Gamification capitalizes on the individual’s natural competitive nature and can reward players with points, levels, achievement badges or virtual currency, any of which can be converted to discounts on the retailer’s products or entries in a drawing to win valuable prizes. At the same time, consumers entering these competitions provide the retailer with their email address and progressively more data that can be used to further personalize the retailer’s relationship with them.

With CRM technology that is both comprehensive and flexible, retailers can rely on this technology to turn insight into action, ultimately driving sales. From reducing the cost of dealing with customer issues to automating business processes that bolster customer satisfaction and loyalty, CRM technology is a key component of creating advocates out of customers who appreciate the retailer’s insight into the shopping experience they expect

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