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The Retail Challenge: Data to Insights

“It’s just getting louder,” said Michael Fisher, president of Fluent‘s newly launched Fluent Dialog division.

He was talking to me at CRMC 2019, the CRM for retail conference, held in Chicago last week; and he was talking about the demand from retail brands to be able to drive timely, relevant, actionable insights from their ever-expanding lakes of first party data.

As a series of major brands — from BestBuy to Disney, from Sephora to Shiseido — took the stage, the message was consistent. They know that marketing “at” people is decreasing in importance. They know they need to build ongoing relationships with customers, meeting them in the channel of their choice, with messages relevant at the time of touch.

The question was how to do this, and at scale. All the brands who spoke were committed to the quest; all were at different stages in their journey.

Many CDPs, of different flavors, were in attendance too. But as Fisher pointed out, when it comes to innovative technology, “if you can’t abstract value, it’s a net negative.” At the same time, he said, “innovation is not an option for brands. Fluent Dialog is designed to enable brands to give “customers insights into the things they care about, at the time they care about them.”

All sounds good, of course, but how are the brands themselves coping?

Lovesac: taking omnichannel seriously

“Misery loves company,” mused Sue Beckett, VP of digital and direct marketing, as she reflected on the challenges Lovesac shared with other brands taking the main stage. But that was just the kick-off to an optimistic presentation about how the designed-for-life furniture vendor is addressing the new style of customer journey.

Lovesac went public about a year ago, and has been seeing, said Beckett, fast growth. Its social media profile especially has been growing, with almost 400,000 Instagram followers (the product is visually appealing), and almost 800,000 Facebook likes.

Current objectives include:

  • Expanding advertising (especially TV)
  • Identifying and understanding customers
  • Accepting that this is “the age of the customer”
  • Resolving disparate data and multiple customer records
  • Partnering carefully

In particular, understanding the customer means “at all touchpoints, in real time,” said Beckett in her presentation; and Lovesac has called on Redpoint Global, the CDP and engagement platform, to support that goal.

I asked whether the need for agility across channels reflected a younger market for the kind of, well, agile furniture Lovesac produces. “Our customer base does skew into the millennial segment,” Beckett told me, “but we believe that it is any customer’s expectations at this point to have a seamless experience throughout their buying journey. Even customers in the older demographic segments have higher expectations based on the fact that they are also tech savvy, and choose to shop in multiple channels.”

Like every other brand represented here, Lovesac is on a journey, and one which will continue. Even so, they’ve seen promising results with their roadmap already, with a 75 percent increase in online sales in their last fiscal year.

Another key part of the roadmap is to have CRM capabilities orchestrated across all relevant channels. Redpoint will support this initiative too. “We won’t have another partner for CRM,” said Beckett. “What I presented, the omnichannel experience is the roadmap. We will have multiple phases where we introduce new capabilities.”

Sweating the U.S. market

Sweaty Betty, the memorably named women’s activity clothing vendor, has a 20 year history in the U.K., but it’s a relative newcomer to the States (the Flatiron branch is very close to the DMN mother-ship), a notoriously difficult market to enter, according to VP of performance marketing, Emma Rushe.

Her presentation offered a framework of marketing goals the brand needs to meet, and I asked her to tell me how far along the path they were. First, making data accessible and actionable.

“We had no access to our data. Our agency used to send us a report with no transparency.” They now lean on the smart marketing hub Optimove. “It’s now a couple of seconds to download data, and we can query it within the platform, without having a team of data scientists.”

For example, after hosting a customer event, Rushe might want to know what customers bought, whether they returned, and if they did so, whether they returned to a store or online. She estimates it now takes about 30 seconds to generate that kind of report.

How far down the road are they on segmenting customer data? “I think we’re basic at the moment. We’ve set a lot of top-line segments, but Optimove does a lot of automation for us, creating more granular segments as people slowly filter in. We’re good at thinking what lifecycle stage customers are in, whether the churning, whether they’re VIP customers; I think we’re okay with that. We want to take it further and start predicting what they are going to do in terms of product, and we’re not quite there yet.”

As far as orchestration across channels goes, the brand is also in the early stages. “We used to send millions of catalogs, which was unproductive and expensive.” Now that they’re tracking email conversions, they’re able to exclude those customers from catalog distribution. “They don’t need it. They’re engaging on a much cheaper channel. We’re finding how to layer our market materials.”

The ultimate goal, of course, is optimizing the message to the customer as immediately as possible. “We’re doing a lot of things to understand when it’s best to hit someone, and what they respond to. The visibility into the incremental uplift of every campaign we’re doing is helping us make decisions quicker. Before, we were taking six to eight months to make decisions around these things. We’re now constantly experimenting, as we never were before, and it’s a constant journey that we’re on.”

Sweaty Betty entered the U.S. as a brick-and-mortar brand, assuming it would open a lot of stores quickly. That turned out, said Rushe, to be the wrong strategy. “We’ve switched about two years ago, and the budget that was going to be invested into bricks-and-mortar was invested into marketing, and that’s when we onboarded Optimove — when we decided to attack the American market digitally, rather than  through a physical presence.”

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