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Turning customer data into a competitive advantage

26 Dec 2018

Article by MuleSoft vice president Asia Pacific, Will Bosma.

Modern consumers are looking for three things: speed, personalisation and convenience. They expect to shop where they want, when they want and how they want. Retailers that fail to meet consumers where they risk losing business. 

To remain competitive in today’s digital world, retailers need to provide connected experiences across channels. However, retailers have historically struggled with access to customer data—perhaps the most valuable, untapped resource in businesses today. Customer data is often trapped in fragmented systems that are constantly changing, making them costly and time-consuming to manage, access and secure. 

With the right strategy in place, retailers can tap into fragmented systems, connect them together in an agile way and, ultimately, gain a 360-degree view of their customers. To achieve this, many retailers are turning to APIs—which allow systems, applications and devices to talk to each other by sharing data, regardless of where the data resides or what format it’s in. With an easy way to organise and orchestration data across domains, retailers will be better equipped to deliver the connected and personalised experiences consumers want.

The rising demand for personalisation

As more and more consumers look for – and even demand – personalised experiences, the more applications retailers are forced to touch. This has driven retailers to hyperspecialise, whether they realise it or not. 

When ordering online, for example, shoppers can choose from multiple third-party delivery, payment and pickup options, all while tracking the status of their order and sometimes engaging with virtual assistants. Add to this the fact that consumers expect to complete transactions in just a few short clicks, without repeating too much information if they are a returning customer.

This is no small feat. It requires a wealth of data from different legacy sources and across an ever-expanding array of specialist applications, from warehousing and inventory to order management and invoices. Hyperspecialisation is alive and well in retailers. What used to be done by one monolithic system now often requires dozens of best-in-breed SaaS applications, which number more than 5,000 in the marketing technology landscape alone. 

Overcoming fragmented systems and data

In order to build a 360-degree customer view, retailers need to ensure their legacy systems, SaaS applications and on-the-floor devices all work in concert. Retailers can no longer afford to have valuable customer data trapped in silos. After all, effective customer 360 depends upon an organisation’s ability to leverage customer data to build the right experience.

While the task of unifying customer data across disparate sources is one of the largest roadblocks facing retailers today, an API strategy can help. APIs can aggregate, organise and orchestrate data across systems to build a holistic 360-degree view of the customer. Though, merely having customer data isn’t enough. The real differentiator for retailers is being able to trigger actions and business processes based on customer information that is constantly refreshed. As a result, retailers can create impactful customer experiences that don’t miss a beat and help move customers along their desired journeys.

Forward-thinking retailer Lane Crawford, for example, is using an API strategy to deliver personalised, omnichannel customer experiences. The retailer exposed access to its CRM and e-commerce applications through APIs in its application network, enabling it to create a data-as-a-service platform. The platform can orchestrate 360-degree views of customers and inventory, including up-to-date loyalty balances and shopping history. The same APIs are leveraged across digital channels, including its new mobile app, website and WeChat. 

As market conditions and consumer demands continuously evolve, retailers need to remain agile. This means being able to pull valuable data from legacy systems on a moment’s notice and being able to experiment with SaaS applications that can be easily plugged in and out—all in service of providing amazing customer experiences. With retail moving beyond transactional exchanges and toward personalised experiences, it’s never been more important for retailers to build an accurate, timely and complete view of their customers.