Making the Customer Connection

Getting closer to the customer has always been important to retailers, but never more so than it is today. Chain Store Age spoke with SAP’s Lori Mitchell-Keller about the transformational shifts that are shaking up the retail model.

All the buzz today is about how retailers need to get closer to the customer, but what exactly does it mean?

It means understanding customers for who they are, what they want to buy, what they already did, how they want to interact with the retailer, which channel they prefer, and what motivates them to spend their money with you.

It’s really about experience management. The experience that a customer has should be the same whether its in-store, on the website or via a mobile device. They should feel comfortable with the brand and with their ability to find what they need, access assistance when needed and make a purchase easily. Underneath all this are the tools that harness the customer knowledge and drive the experience, including big data and social network analysis tools.

What is it about the current environment that makes getting closer to the customer so important?

Every so often we see a significant shift that really shakes up the retail model. We all remember the days where retailers and advertisements told consumers what we wanted. Now, as consumers, we have the power to demand what we want from retailers. We’ve just started to work our way through another significant shift prompted by the increase in transparency of pricing and offers. Customers not only demand specific items; they now demand those items at certain price points, via specific channels, delivered via the method they want. To stay in the game, retailers must use the customer knowledge to match these demands. If they can’t, the consumer will simply move on to another retailer that can. 

What is the biggest challenges retailers face in becoming more connected to the consumer?

Understanding the shopper and providing products in the right place, at the right time and at the right price. By utilizing big data tools and feedback from consumers, retailers can more easily meet expectations.

How can technology help retailers in this regard?

The right technology tools can help retailers pare down and analyze customer data, get more granular and then define proactive campaigns to maximize customer interactions across all channels — a true multichannel approach based on real data. This strategy — combining the power of predictive analytics with the ability to personalize the shopping experience for individuals — is the key to getting closer to the customer, driving purchases and increasing revenues.

What type of solutions/tools does SAP Retail offer for helping retailers connect better with customers?

SAP Precision Retailing is a new cloud-based enterprise solution, powered by SAP HANA, that helps retailers influence consumer shopping behavior at the point of decision by delivering one-to-one personalized offers in real-time across channels, such as mobile devices. Using customer data and geo-location, retailers can share customized offers with consumers at the exact point when the consumer is primed for purchase. Also, mobile tools, such as the SAP Retail Store Ops Associate app, can empower sales associates to close more sales. It provides real-time insight to product information and inventory, in order to answer nearly any question a customer might have.

What role do things like personalized promotions, m-commerce and social analytics play in this?

Social analytics help retailers define consumer trends in order to maintain an optimal inventory. Personalized promotions then help inform the consumer about offers and availability based on their individual demands. Finally, m-commerce enables customers to pay, buy, bank and remit money from mobile devices, offering the ability to buy how and when it suits the customer.

How does SAP see all this evolving?

We envision retail without boundaries, where technology continues to evolve as consumer demands change. As consumers rely more on technology tools, especially social and mobile ones, the information available to retailers will grow, and interactions will become more personalized.