The Changing Paradigm of Retail CRM

The Changing Paradigm of Retail CRM

By: Ben Eason, SVP, Client Development Conversant, Epsilon

Ben Eason, SVP, Client Development Conversant, Epsilon

You started as a Director at Coolsavings in 2000, and since then, have taken on various leadership positions in the Marketing and Advertising space. Today, you function as a Senior Vice President of Client Development at Conversant. Could you describe this journey and what were the key takeaways?  

It’s been an incredible journey, and what’s exciting about it is that I think we’re still scratching the surface of our capabilities and how we’re perceived in the marketplace.              

Myjob, the platform we operated, and the market was vastly different when I was at Coolsavings. I was working with clients that only believed in click-based measurement; others questioned the effectiveness of display advertising entirely. Conversant really helped drive change in the ecosystem with regards to how people view display advertising and personalized media.

"Brands with enhanced in-store experiences that create warm, welcoming environments are thriving"

Two things have been consistent during my time at Conversant. We’ve always said you must be able to view both online and offline conversions, and you need to put the customer at the center of the conversation. The second point continues to grow in importance. Reaching customers used to be as simple as seeing an individual on a desktop and running a display ad. Today, customers have more touchpoints with brands than ever before. They’re on more devices and more screens. I remember when the iPad rolled out. Our engineers flagged that 70 percent of our traffic was coming from Apple devices on Christmas Day, and we immediately saw the need for solutions that could reach individuals across all their devices. That’s who we are.

What are the current market trends you see shaping the Retail CRM Space?

Three things really stand out to me.

First, brands recognize the limitations of their tech stacks. They’re starting to understand that Frankenstein solutions don’t often perform as promised. They’ve invested capital and resources into solutions that can’t reach their customers, and it’s frustrating. Ultimately, performance comes down to identification and connectivity. If you can’t solve for identification and connectivity, you’re not going to have a very successful digital CRM platform. We often talk about return on marketing investment versus just return on ad spend because the realization is that clients are spending a lot of time and highly valuable resources without getting the results. Second, successful brands are embracing the changing retail environment and focusing on the customer experience. I keep hearing about the “retail apocalypse.” That’s overblown. We’re lucky to work with strong clients whose businesses are seeing accelerated growth and competing against Amazon and others because of their customer experience. Brands with enhanced in-store experiences that create warm, welcoming environments are thriving. Brands in decline have experiences that leave customers thinking “this is not where I want to be.” I remember the ‘doom and gloom’ in grocery when Walmart entered the vertical. Yes, there were a lot of stores that closed in regional areas, but the ones that survived completely transformed themselves. If you walk into Mariano’s in Chicago, they have an ice cream counter and a coffee stand. They will take your groceries to your car. You can order by phone or online, and they’ll deliver groceries to you. They’ve really evolved and mitigated that threat. People are willing to pay a premium on their groceries and other goods if they get a better experience.

Finally, clients are making a big push for transparency. They want to have a better understanding of how their dollars are working, who they’re talking to and how they are being projected in the market. There are still nefarious players out there, and as clients to migrate budgets from TV to digital, they want to make sure that their ads are being seen by real people in brand safe environments.

As online retailers have already adopted effective personalization techniques, how can they further improve the loyalty of an engaged customer base? Please elaborate.

I was operating under the impression that customer loyalty was dead up until a few years ago. A personal shopping experience with a local retailer changed my perspective and created a customer for life. It was all about the experience.

We bought a refrigerator from Abt Electronics in Chicago that didn’t quite fit where it needed to go. Not only did Abt take the refrigerator out and put it back on the truck, but they came back two hours later, installed the new one and refunded me $50 for the cheaper model. There was no re-stocking fee or inconvenience fee. There were no scratches or dents on the refrigerator or walls. It was a great experience from beginning to end.

When I think of how you improve customer loyalty, yes personalization matters when you talk about creative and getting the right message to the right people, but the customer experience matters too. Is your customer service seamless or are you complicating things? As a customer, I don’t like unnecessary steps to get to the ‘yes’ or where I need to be. The humanity of the relationship is becoming more prevalent. When you want to buy something simple, let’s say batteries, you can go online or in-store and quickly make that purchase. It’s a different shopping experience when you’re buying a car or appliance. Retailers need to recognize the humanity of their customer relationships and deliver experiences that create emotional connections and deepen loyalty.

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