It seems that every week I hear of an amazing new technology retailers are using to be more efficient and wow their customers. Gap recently unveiled its virtual dressing room, and just last month, Uri Minkoff showed the Shoptalk audience how he and his team at Rebecca Minkoff use Alexa to quickly surface details from their data. The term smart device can now be applied to a whole array of gadgets, from mirrors to shelves to displays. But which of these bright, shiny innovations will stand the test of time? More importantly, what should you invest in now to be ready for the retail of the future? It’s simple really ... data. Your brand already has access to loads of data – from your own back-end systems and ecommerce platforms to social media and point-of-sale systems. To create a frictionless journey for your customers, you must invest in making insights from that data available across every channel. That was the subject of today’s Bronto Summit 2017 keynote presentation. Carolyn KeynoteCarolyn Sparano, general manager of Bronto Software, kicked off the eighth annual event with an inside look at her vision for the future. She began by taking us through a personal shopping catastrophe, spanning online, in-store and customer service. Representatives at each touch point in her shopping nightmare were armed with a different set of product and customer data.  She highlighted five steps along her journey where accurate, integrated data would have closed the sale. When asked if the audience could see aspects of their own brands in the example, I didn’t see many raised hands, but there were definitely some raised eyebrows and nodding heads. According to Sparano, “The future of commerce marketing is about creating a seamless customer experience by bringing data together across all shopping channels so you can anticipate your customer's unique needs and treat them like individuals rather than part of a crowd.”

The Future of the Customer Experience

To demonstrate her vision of the future, Sparano shared a story of a fictitious shopper named Pat, a well-dressed but harried professional searching for an outfit from his favorite brand, The Woodson Company. Sparano painted a picture of what could happen for the shopper, and brand, if data from across the organization (inventory, price, product description, customer behavior, etc.) is integrated to provide insights for every touch point in the shopper’s journey. Sparano helped the audience imagine how great the customer experience could be if, for instance, a customer’s online product preferences were paired with in-store stock levels and trending products and then shared with in-store reps. The in-store rep doesn’t have to rely on intuition and experience to provide Pat with relevant complementary items. Armed with this data, the rep reinforces Pat’s trust in the brand while increasing the size of his purchase. And what if these insights could power a self-service, in-store experience – with the same automated, personalized product recommendations? For shoppers like me, that would be heaven! Even if a sales associate has the best suggestions for me, I don’t really like for her to hover. One area of Sparano’s vision of the future might surprise you. Traditionally, customer service reps have only focused on resolving customer complaints, answering product questions and handling returns. But “just think of the missed revenue opportunities!” said Sparano. “In the future, that disconnect will be erased as retailers provide these reps with the same insights. Every person along the omnichannel shopping experience  – from the online store to the in-store clerk to the customer service rep – becomes a commerce marketer.”

The Future for Commerce Marketers

Those scenarios paint a rich picture of the kind of experience you’ll be able to offer your customers. But what can you expect in terms of your capabilities as a marketer? Enter Jane, the fictional marketing director for The Woodson Company, who uses a marketing automation platform that could actually propose the next best marketing tactic to employ. As with Pat’s story, Jane will also benefit from integrated data across channels. Her platform analyzes the data and determines which products perform best for each segment – it can even point out segments she hasn’t yet considered. For example, by constantly mining the data, it might discover a segment of customers who are predicted to churn in 30 days, suggest a re-engagement workflow and then identify the projected ROI based on the segment’s average order value. Is that possible? We think so. Just as today’s in-store rep operates on intuition and experience, today’s commerce marketer has to do all the work to determine the next best move. “But imagine a future platform that uses your data to guide you in the right direction,” she said. “Once the platform suggests the new campaign, you simply tweak it based on your expertise and unique business goals.” And voilá! Bronto customers are already having great success integrating product, browse, cart and order data to improve the customer experience and increase revenue. “Your future will be more and more about analytics and automation of the tasks you're now doing manually,” Sparano said. “Automation will free you to focus on higher value activities.”

What Now?

We think the future will arrive sooner than realized. But you must be ready. Think about your processes and systems – what needs to change to allow the exchange of data across all channels? Across all departments? Look holistically at your customer journey. Where are the roadblocks? Before you invest in amazing new innovations, invest in your data. Says Sparano, “Leverage your technology – not for technology's sake – but to help your customers love your products even more.”