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Last Thursday we launched a series of articles with Celebrus Technology, examining what makes for 'appropriate marketing' and illustrating the differences between different sectors, different approaches to digital marketing agility, and how the three Cs (Customers, Complexity and Culture) are increasingly significant. With retail being often the most progressive and evolved area for a digital environment, this week we see how retail is leading the pack but also how it could benefit from a different approach. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

The way each customer chooses to interact with their preferred retailers varies dramatically. From the multiple channels - including stores, websites, mobile apps, catalogues and call centres - to the highly individual ways customers undertake the actual purchase process: all lead to a highly complex customer journey for retailers to understand with a plethora of touchpoints potentially involved. Add in the multiple devices now on offer to support the digital customer interaction and the customer engagement picture is clearly complex. Yet retailers must be able to untangle this for each customer in order to deliver appropriate and personalised communications that don't conflict with those sent via other channels.

Retailers also often have a wide-ranging and complex product suite which can provide benefits in terms of expanding up-selling and cross-selling opportunity, however with considerations such as inventory control and pricing to handle as well it can make the life of retail marketers multifaceted as well as fast-moving.

Increasingly demanding customers
Retailers need to take serious steps to understand the changing nature of customer behaviour if they are to create a compelling engagement message and model. How can a retailer optimise the customer experience online, for example, without understanding the device being used or a customer's preference for researching online and buying in store?

With more and more customers adopting multi-channel behaviour, including showrooming and more recently reverse showrooming, there is a critical need for retailers to have a full view of that end to end journey if they are to engage, not disengage, customers with the right online content and offer.

The good news for omnichannel retailers is the availability of a wealth of in depth customer data. Retailers have the ability to determine how individual customers interact and on which devices. To be able to do this accurately however, the retailer needs all of the data stored in one place - including web data, mobile data and social data as well as transaction and loyalty data - to really build a complete picture of the customer. Only then can they execute true data-driven marketing.

Culture of 'fast and fragmented'
Driven by the need to react quickly to today's fickle consumers, many retailers are investing in point solutions, such as standalone website personalisation tools, rather than take a longer-term platform-based approach. This is also partly driven by the retailer culture of agility: keeping up with trends is inherent to the retail psyche.

While providing a great customer experience is important, many retailers are in fact concentrating so much on that experience and engaging with new channels such as social media, that they are neglecting to collect and analyse their customer data. Whilst their agile approach does enable them to stay apace of their competitors and satisfy immediate customer demands, it does not give them the complete solution required to achieve the much needed Single Customer View (SCV), let alone develop deep customer understanding and drive true omnichannel marketing. To take the longer-term view, however, will require an investment of time as well as the bringing together of cross-functional teams from Marketing, analytics and IT - all of which is hard to do in a fast-paced environment.

In addition to the pressure to move quickly, many retailers, except those with a catalogue background, lack the marketing analytics skills needed to transform that data into deep customer understanding both at the aggregated and individual level. Armed with this in depth, omnichannel insight however, retailers can exploit customer understanding to create an agile and personalised approach that will enable them to interact with the customer at the right point in this sometimes complex journey with the right deal and the right message.

Agility is key to retail success and has many benefits in meeting rapidly evolving consumer demands. However it can also drive retailers to take a short-term approach which impacts their ability to create a fantastic customer experience and utilise in depth understanding of the customer journey to improve engagement, drive efficiencies and drive real customer loyalty.