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Survey Says: Where Retailers Stand on Personalization, Access to Data & 2020 Objectives

By Sharon Shapiro

Big changes are coming for brands and retailers in the year ahead. For months, the retail industry has been on the brink of change thanks to the introduction of new, AI-driven technology, and these changes will come to a head in 2020.

We saw firsthand how leading marketers are preparing for these changes at the fifth annual Bluecore Summit. To better understand how fundamental shifts in available technology and company objectives will shape retailers’ marketing plans in 2020, we surveyed nearly 200 marketers in attendance. 

Respondents’ job functions spanned email (38%), CRM (25%), digital (13%), eCommerce (13), technology (4%) and other (8%), with 85% of respondents at a manager level or above. Retailers represented a variety of sub-verticals, including apparel (29%), footwear (21%), luxury (13%), health and beauty (8%) and home goods (4%).

Here’s what we learned.

True 1:1 Personalization in Email is a Top Priority, But Gaining Buy-In Still Proves Difficult

Personalization has been a top priority for retail marketers for years, but what exactly “personalization” means has changed over time. In the year ahead, an overwhelming majority of marketers plan to prioritize sending more emails tailored to individual customers.

Interestingly, only 14% of marketers plan to focus their personalization efforts on channels outside of email. Marketers have likely prioritized email over other channels due to the fact that they have full control over the message and audience within the email channel and due to its relative low cost.

Marketers may have clear goals for personalization in the year ahead, but the path to achieving those goals comes with its challenges. Most notably, those challenges include gaining buy-in across teams and departments for handing over more decision-making to technology (54%) and connecting customer, behavior and product data to build audiences for targeted campaigns based on individual shoppers’ product interests at unique points in time (25%).

These challenges are somewhat alarming. Knowing that personalization at scale is only achievable through easy access to data and that technology is key to providing that access, why do 79% of marketers feel challenged in those areas?

One explanation might be that brands are wary due to past hiccups that came from introducing new technology but not updating processes and workflows to match. To be clear, the right technology alone does not provide the magic bullet to achieving personalization goals. Even with the right technology in place, organizations must introduce new workflows and learn to trust those changes, which takes time and effort. Past challenges with these types of technology and/or process changes may hold back organizations from trying again.

Overcoming these challenges requires:

  1. Introducing the right technology based on organizational goals, which requires thorough research, a successful implementation, updated workflows and a well thought-out strategy for using that new technology
  2. Educating internal stakeholders at all levels and keeping them informed about goals for, use of and results from the new technology to secure and maintain buy-in for the change

Marketers Aim to be Digitally Fluid and Recognize Access to Data as a Key Area for Improvement

Nearly all marketers (96%) agree with the idea that any brand can be D2C or “digitally fluid,” which describes a brand’s use of digital technology to create seamless, relevant connections with consumers. Although this idea was once unique to digitally native brands, survey respondents agree this is no longer the case.

Despite this nearly uniform desire to connect channels and create a purposeful, individualized experience for each shopper, many marketers have struggled to deliver on this vision. The biggest culprit? Accessing and actioning on data.

Delivering on a truly digitally fluid strategy requires the ability to access and take action on customer, behavior and product data. However, accessing — let alone taking action — proves difficult for many marketers.

The fact that the majority of respondents have difficulty accessing data is likely due to not having the right technology. Organizations that still handle their data manually experience lag times in delivering insights due to the time it takes to aggregate and pull the necessary data and limits on who within the organization can actually access data. And the longer it takes to access data, the more difficult it becomes to take action. That’s because even if marketers do have the appropriate technology in place to take action, by the time they get access to data those insights are already stale.

Resolving these challenges requires:

  1. Removing manual workflows in favor of automated ones and democratizing access to data through AI-driven technology
  2. Having customer, behavior and product data in a single platform
  3. Introducing technology that brings three core processes — observing data, making decisions based on that data and taking action accordingly — into one place

2020 Retail Objectives Focus on Maximizing Revenue & Retention

Finally, when it comes to 2020, top-line company goals take the priority for marketers. Respondents ranked increasing email revenue as their most important objective for 2020, followed by growing repeat purchase rates and driving more site traffic.

Interestingly, scaling email personalization falls to the bottom of this list; however, this ordering is likely due to the fact that marketers see email personalization as a means to achieve their top objective of increasing email revenue (as opposed to scaling personalization being the end unto itself).

The high prioritization of growing repeat purchase rates also highlights brands’ focus on finding their way out of the retention death spiral, which is characterized by a decline in repeat purchases and elongated buying cycles. The brands that can get out of this spiral and avoid the all too common one-and-done buyer problem stand to unlock enormous revenue opportunities in the short and long terms.

Meeting these objectives requires:

  1. Developing a coordinated email marketing strategy based on modern technology that guides shoppers through the purchase funnel by reaching them in a moment of need with relevant products
  2. Investing heavily in digitally fluid operating models that allow brands to get closer to consumers by using data to create more engaging and relevant shopping experiences across channels

Preparing Your Brand for the Future of Retail Marketing

What else do you need to know to prepare your brand for the future of retail marketing? Check out our Bluecore Summit Annual magazine for even more advice on achieving personalization goals, improving access to data and more.

Sharon Shapiro

Sharon Shapiro

Sharon leads Bluecore's content marketing program, collaborating with top retailers and strategists to highlight the latest trends in retail marketing, spotlight industry leaders and share advice on how marketers can stay ahead of the curve. She has spent her career building content marketing programs for B2B SaaS companies. Sharon graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in journalism.