Nari Sitaraman, Chief Technology Officer at Crate and Barrel, shares the story of how the retailer uses data analysis technology to gain a competitive advantage through its digital customer experience. CIO.com previously published a version of this story.
Unpredicted and unprecedented disruptions over the past year have prompted lightning-fast strategic and execution changes to reach customers wherever and whenever they want to shop. To survive, organizations had to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives. This allowed them to overcome barriers and achieve long-term goals faster than they expected. Crate and Barrrel has seen online sales increase by more than 40% since the outbreak. Online sales had already been more than half our business. They currently account for more than 65% our total business.
We see a bigger revolution ahead. This will be marked by the merging of digital and physical engagement to create an entirely personalized and seamless e-commerce experience. Our use of data analytics technology allows us to create more personal, immersive experiences for customers. This technology is embedded with machine learning to assist our company in this dynamic retail environment.
To survive, organizations had to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives. This allowed them to overcome barriers and achieve long-term goals faster than they expected.
Online and offline experiences blur more often. Digital sales can be connected in many ways, including curbside pickups. Our physical shopping catalogues are now more personalized thanks to rich customer data, which allows us to tailor direct mailers to different consumer groups.
However, each domain has a different customer interaction. The physical store offers more inspiration, allowing shoppers to explore, discover, and interact with products in a natural way. They also offer the opportunity for customers to design their homes. While digital retail is more personal and guided, it lacks the tactile discovery that in-person shopping can bring to life.
The future of online shopping is a combination of the inspiration and knowledge of physical retail and the richness and personalization offered by online retail.
This highlights one of the biggest challenges retailers face when creating a digital customer experience. Bridging the gap between browsing on a website and actually walking into a physical store is the key. As technology and capabilities improve, this has been an ongoing evolution. The first websites attempted to recreate the store experience using search to help users find products and categories. Navigation was used to direct them to specific pages. While website design has seen some improvements and new features for customer engagement have been introduced, the overall structure has remained relatively unchanged.
Companies should seize the chance to reimagine customer experiences online, regardless of external influences or new technologies. The future of online shopping is a combination of the inspiration and knowledge of physical retail and the richness of online retail.
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Cloud technology is the key to a revolution in seamless retail experiences
The new era in retail is about to begin. This is not just about using digital to enhance physical experiences. The new focus will be to maximize design and data to create more innovative, creative, and inspiring experiences both online and offline.
Cloud computing is a key component of the digital shopping revolution. Cloud computing makes it possible to easily collect and analyze large quantities of data from multiple sources such as customer traffic information in physical stores, mobile shopping patterns, or other digital shopping behaviors. This helps us to better understand our customers and to remove friction in order to improve our modern shopping experience.
Cloud computing offers clear advantages, especially when it comes to breaking down data silos. It is essential that organizations collect the correct data from all touchpoints in order to create a single source view of their customers. This will allow them to provide a rich and personalized customer experience.
Crate and Barrel heavily relies on Google Cloud’s BigQuery information warehousing and analysis tools to reduce time in preparing data sources. It is easy to use and allows us to draw on 10X more information than we did a few years back. These data sources are then analyzed, transformed into actionable insights, which can be used to influence customers’ next interactions. This, in turn, increases revenue. BigQuery’s machine learning capabilities allow us to create more models and recommendations at scale, without increasing costs or overloading our resources.
We were able to shift direct mail investment from direct mail into digital advertising by using omnichannel data about customers’ shopping habits. This was done with minimal friction and two-digit incremental returns. We can use digital ads to get rich insights about our customers and prospects that we can use to improve messaging strategies and manage customer relationships across all channels. To continuously improve the customer experience at key points through digital and offline interactions, we have used both online and offline data.
Cloud computing offers clear advantages, especially when it comes to breaking down old data silos.
We have been able to use the data synergies between Google platforms to better optimize and improve our ads effectiveness as we scale our investments. This has helped us double our return while increasing our investment by 20 percent.
Future shopping will place more emphasis on technology teams as well as marketers and designers to invent at a faster pace than the modern consumer. Moving data between different repositories on different clouds or using data analytics technology allows teams to be agile and respond quickly.
We’ve also started to use BigQuery for customer insight and improvement during the order process. We strive to provide transparency and seamless experiences for all stages of the product’s life cycle, from product origination through last-mile delivery. The way organizations use data to enhance both physical and digital business operations will transform every industry, not just retail. Data is the key to creating a competitive advantage for our customers.
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