questions to ask retail marketing technology partner

Strategy

7 Questions to Ask Any Prospective Retail Marketing Technology Partner

By Deniz Ibrahim

The accelerated shift to eCommerce during 2020 has brought about a variety of new needs for retailers. From creating a seamless experience for shoppers across channels like email and site to scaling personalization with ease, the time to implement these digital-first programs is now.

Along the way, many teams will find they need to optimize their marketing technology investments to meet these needs. Whether that means consolidating email solutions, introducing AI-driven technology to power better personalization or anything else, selecting the right technology partner will be critical to future success.

With that in mind, here are the seven questions to ask any prospective retail marketing technology partner to help find the best fit for your team.

1) Uptime on Black Friday

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the entire “Cyber Week” are make-or-break for retailers. With eCommerce site traffic and digital marketing activities hitting new peaks during this time every year, and bigger volumes than ever expected as we approach the first digitally-dominant holiday season, you need to trust that the technology powering these efforts can handle the sudden and steep increase in load.

An outage with any technology powering these all-important efforts can result in millions of dollars lost for your brand. As a result, it’s important to understand any prospective technology partner’s history of reliability during this critical time of year.

Specifically, you should ensure that prospective partners not only understand the critical nature of Black Friday-Cyber Monday (as demonstrated by dedicated preparations to account for the heavily increased platform load as well as helping your team strategize accordingly), but also have a strong track record from previous years that you can trust will continue going forward. Of course you should also be able to place a high level of trust in your partner’s reliability year round, but extra scrutiny during Cyber Week is critical given the high stakes during this time of year. 

2) Speed to ROI

Return on investment (ROI) is an essential measure for any technology in making sure that both the time and money spent delivers expected benefits. And speed to ROI matters, as the sooner you can expect to recoup your investment, the sooner you can start reaping the revenue benefits from the platform.

Importantly, the clock on this measure starts ticking the moment you sign a contract with a new technology partner, as it covers everything from the time it takes to launch and have your team learn their way around the platform to the time it takes to generate enough revenue (and/or savings) from the platform to start seeing returns.

Finally, you should set a high bar for this measure, as the longer the onboarding and time to value period extends, the more it costs your business — especially when it comes to mission-critical solutions like your email service provider. And while most eCommerce teams have historically been trained to expect a longer onboarding and time to ROI for these types of platforms, modern technology should change these expectations. In terms of benchmarks, look no further than Universal Standard, which achieved a full payback in only three weeks when launching a new ESP. 

3) Innovation and Roadmap

Next, it’s important to understand early on what any prospective technology partner’s innovation plan and product roadmap look like. Doing so is important for (1) confirming that their path forward aligns with your brand’s long term strategy and (2) ensuring that they have regular plans for innovation. The latter might seem like an obvious one, but not all product roadmaps deliver the same level of innovation consistently over the years.

Innovation includes past innovations and how the technology is pacing in the market compared to other solutions. Some areas to narrow in on include what the partner is launching that makes it easier to use the technology as well as how those features will continue to improve performance, especially in relation to alternative solutions.

Product roadmap includes the continued pace of innovation and how the partner will continue to scale long term. Key questions to ask in this area include: How will you future-proof the technology? What is your plan for continued investments to grow and advance the platform? What roadmap elements from last year did your team actually launch? How often does the product get updated and are those updates communicated to users? Does customer feedback inform product updates?

4) Retail Specificity

Along the way, it’s also especially important to narrow in on retail-specific capabilities within any technology partner’s product roadmap. 

Ideally, new marketing technologies you bring on will be purpose-built for retail, meaning that every capability they build will offer something to help further retail-specific goals, like focusing on turning shoppers into lifetime customers versus simply driving single transactions. This type of retail specificity is important because it allows the technology to accommodate deep use cases that solve a more concentrated set of outcomes, such as surfacing more conversion opportunities through merchandising insights and optimizing for increased margins and sell-through.

However, if any prospective technology partners work with verticals other than retail, it’s critical to identify how the product roadmap will be split between retail capabilities and capabilities for other industries that may have little-to-no use within retail marketing programs.

5) Post Sales Support

Any technology partner should be just that — a partner. As a result, it’s essential to understand how their team will help lead your team when it comes to staying on top of industry trends like the accelerated shift to eCommerce and the rise of direct-to-consumer models, developing new strategies to keep shoppers engaged and launching high-performing programs based on specific goals and business needs.

First and foremost, your team should look for a partner who can provide this level of guidance throughout every stage of your brand’s relationship with them. That’s because the best partners know that they only succeed when your brand succeeds. Second, the partner should ideally provide strategic guidance not only when it comes to using their technology effectively, but also around broader retail industry trends. This area is where a technology partner focused specifically on retail can provide an enormous advantage.

More specifically, you should look for a variety of services from both the partner and, as applicable, third party agencies that you can surround yourself with to ensure success. Key services to look for include fully guided onboarding support, 24/7 product support, customer success services around planning, creating and launching campaigns based on key business objectives and technical services to help extend personalization through bespoke solutions as it makes sense for your business.

6) Product Catalog Integration

The product catalog sits at the heart of any retail business. For most retailers, that catalog is very detailed (e.g. in terms of SKUs, sizes, etc.) and changes rapidly (e.g. in terms of availability, prices, etc.), so being able to capture all of that information in real-time is essential for powering modern digital marketing programs.

Diving deeper, the best performing retail marketing programs use three types of data: Behavior, customer and product data. This three-piece data model makes it possible to launch highly personalized and predictive campaigns by connecting the “when” (behavior), “who” (customer) and “what” (product). But to power these types of product-driven, personalized campaigns, your retail marketing platform needs a deep and real-time understanding of changes to your product catalog.

Ultimately, this type of product catalog integration will not only help power higher performing campaigns, but it will also eliminate the headache of managing data feeds, ensure your team always has accurate data, create new opportunities to engage customers based on changes to products and help your team align campaigns to a single source of truth.

7) Extensibility

Finally, you should evaluate the extensibility of any retail marketing platform to determine how well it will integrate and work with other solutions across the entire retail technology ecosystem, as well as within the vendor’s cloud itself. This measure is important, as the ability to activate data across solutions and marketing channels easily will help your team launch more relevant campaigns for individual customers to better scale personalization and increase the efficiency of doing so.

The performance and efficiency benefits that come from this type of extensibility can’t be overlooked. In terms of performance, the ability to scale personalization can deliver enormous engagement and revenue gains. Recent data from Bluecore reveals that retailers who personalize 90%+ of campaigns see a 188% increase in conversions and 456% lift in revenue per email compared to retailers who employ a more even mix of personalization vs. static elements within email campaigns. In terms of efficiency, the ability to activate this data more easily — without the headache of manually stitching together multiple systems and forcing them to work in ways they weren’t intended — can free your team’s time to focus less on execution and more on strategy to further improve on those performance gains.

Optimize Your Retail Marketing Technology for Digital-First Commerce

Beyond these seven questions, what else do you need to keep in mind as you evaluate prospective retail marketing technology partners? Download The Retail Marketing Tech Stack Guide, a comprehensive guide from Bluecore, Google Cloud and True Fit on how to optimize your technology for digital-first commerce, to find out everything you need to know.  

deniz ibrahim headshot

Deniz Ibrahim

Deniz is the Senior Director of Product Marketing at Bluecore, where he is focused on introducing the world’s best new products to Bluecore’s fastest growing retailers. Deniz has over a decade of experience in product and marketing, including prior roles at BigCommerce, American Express and Seamless.

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