April 14th, 2015 | 6 MIN READ

Single Customer View: Myth or Omnichannel Nirvana?

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

Many in retail and ecommerce dream of a Utopian future where a single view of the customer will close the gap between digital and physical customer activity, and drive a perfectly personalized, predictive and pinpointed experience to the right customer, anywhere, any time. A future where data from multiple channels and third parties lives in one place, and is integrated with every marketing activity across the purchase journey and customer lifecycle.

While this is certainly near-possible with the right company culture, systems, data, technology and marketing skill, it’s not a reality for most businesses – at least not yet.

What is Single Customer View?

GetElastic's definition of single customer view, or 360-degree view of the customer, is the unification of all data collected about a customer's intent, interactions and transactions with a brand or retailer across channels and touchpoints, whether the channels are purely digital (across marketing channels) or truly omnichannel (across selling and marketing channels).

For example, a SCV may connect interactions that happen in-store and through social, email, advertising, mobile apps and affiliates with an individual's online customer account. This data can be used to more accurately segment the customer (e.g. customer cohorts that spend primarily in-store and occasionally online, or vice-versa) and more effectively target promotions, merchandising, educational content and customer service across digital and physical experiences.

This has advantages for both marketers and customers. Marketers can hit the target more often (more contextual, accurate understanding of customer intent and behavior), and the customer enjoys a more relevant experience.

The SCV challenge

Econsultancy / Innometrics’ research report Single Customer View – Myth or Reality? examines what's driving retailer demand for single customer view, what challenges they face achieving it, and what alternatives exist. The study reports the biggest obstacle to SCV for many businesses interviewed is legacy systems that are difficult to work with, challenging to get rid of, and are poorly understood by the organization.

For those that are close to SCV, few are able to track data in real-time, with latency anywhere from 24 hours up to a week.

Who's achieved SCV?

Of the companies interviewed for the report, the closest to having a real-time view of its customers across data sources is Mothercare, a UK retailer serving moms from expectancy through young childhood. Using e-receipts and APIs, Mothercare connects data feeds from store and digital systems, updating universal customer profile data within approximately 15 minutes from transaction.

Contextual content and commerce

One application of SCV that Mothercare employs is customer club My Mothercare. Integrated with Adobe Campaign and the SCV, its content marketing campaign uses more than 100 contextual triggers to deploy content-rich email from buyer's guides, to how to videos and blog content, tailored to the customer based on her point in the typical customer life cycle.

Its wealth of data enables Mothercare to make fairly accurate predictions on when customers will be in the market for certain products. Says head of loyalty and CRM:

"When you map out the customer journey you can work out where data plays a part and what you need to start on first. We are quite lucky when compared to other retailers, as there is a really defined path through parenting. So from when you come in and buy your first maternity bra from about 12 weeks pregnant, we know when you’ll be thinking of buying car seats and prams and nursery sets and weaning equipment and developmental toys and potty training, because children develop broadly along the same lines. We don’t know your price point, your brand preference or what aspects you value most in those products, and you might not know either, but we have a great opportunity to build a long-term relationship with you by helping you along that path."

Joining physical with digital through e-receipts and its loyalty program allows Mothercare to collect more complete aggregate data, and send the right one-to-one targeting at the most effective time.

Alternative to SCV

Mothercare's an example of an organization that wasn't hand-tied by legacy systems, with a product assortment and customer base that lends perfectly to single customer view and individual targeting.

What about businesses for which single customer view is not possible in the near-term due to lack of buy-in or resources, or unwieldy legacy systems?

Econsultancy's report suggests contextually-rich customer segmentation. For an organization that doesn't desire or intend to do hyper-personalized marketing, brilliant customer segmentation technologies and strategies may be all they need to provide stellar cross-channel experiences in the short or long term. Such strategies are focused more on characteristics of a visitor/customer rather than all available historical data, for example.

For further reading on how this works, check out Econsultancy and Innometrics' Single Customer View: Myth or Reality.

While this may be a worthy alternative, it still leaves a gap. The main advantage of single customer view capability is to form a more complete contextual view, with data gleaned from every touchpoint, to better understand "the customer" (plural) as well as the individual. Segmentation strategies benefit from more complete data.

Should you strive for a SCV?

Regardless whether personalization is one-to-one or one-to-segment, it's context that drives personalized experiences. Every organization that wants to evolve in this area needs to at a minimum integrate sources of contextual data with marketing tools (aka integrated marketing), personalization engines and ecommerce platforms. For example, using ecommerce APIs, leveraging integrated marketing cloud solutions, or a combination of both.

This supports "contextual" commerce to the degree that context can be gathered and applied to the customer experience.

Those that want to take it to the next level can look at ways of integrating in-store and digital interaction, which may also involve APIs and cloud services. It's tempting to bypass this in the short term and build stand-alone omnichannel experiences (for example, digital in-store kiosk or iBeacon experiences that are not connected to the ecommerce system). But this only exacerbates the problem of siloed data, while making it more difficult and costly to "correct" should the strategy move towards full integration in the future.

These experiences are typically less useful to the customer when they can't connect to their online customer account or past purchase behavior, or are out of sync with cross-channel content (for example, a digital kiosk's catalog, description and review content may be stale if not connected with the web's CMS or ecommerce systems).

Ironically, the companies that have the most available data, the most resources to invest and could benefit the most from single customer view and hyper-personalized omnichannel experiences tend to face the biggest battle in achieving it, thanks to legacy systems that don't play nicely with each other.

If you're a mid-sized to large enterprise generating more than $20M in digital revenue annually, request access to the 2015 Advanced Commerce Maturity Scale assessment kit from Elastic Path. The Advanced Commerce Maturity Scale is a new way to measure the ability of your company to deliver omnichannel, experience-driven transactions across touchpoints, highlights areas of the business that constrain your ability to succeed, providing both descriptive and visual results to help you fully understand your level of commerce maturity relative to the current standard of excellence.

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