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In-Store Customer Analytics: Broken Inside and Out

Gary Angel | May 6, 2017 87 views No Comments

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In my last post, I described four huge deficiencies in the current generation of in-store tracking solutions. The inability to track full customer journeys, do real segmentation, or properly contextualize data to the store make life very hard on a retail analyst trying to do interesting work. And over-reliance on non-analytic heatmaps – a tool that looks nice but is analytically unrewarding – just makes everything worse.

Of course, you don’t need to use one of these solutions. You can build an analytics warehouse and use some combination of extraordinarily powerful general purpose tools like Tableau, Datameer, Watson, and R to solve your problems.



Or can you?

Here are three more problems endemic to the current generation of in-store tracking solutions that limit your ability to integrate them into a broader analytics program.

Too Much or Too Little Associate Data

In retail, the human factor is often a critical part of the customer journey. As such, it needs to be measured. In-store counting solutions have tended toward two bad extremes when it comes to Associate data. Really, really bad solutions have just tracked Associates as customers. That’s a disaster. In the online world, we worked to screen-out the IP addresses of employees from our actual web site counting even though it was a tiny fraction of the overall measurement total. In the store world, it’s not a tiny fraction – especially given the flaws of zone-counting solutions. We’ve seen cases where a small number of associates can look like hundreds of customers. So including associate data in the store customer counts is pretty much a guarantee that your data will be garbage. On the other hand, tracking associates just so you can throw their data away isn’t the right answer either. Those interactions are important – and they are important at the journey level. Solutions that throw this data away or aggregate it up to levels like hour or day counts are missing the point. Your solution needs to be able to identify which visits had interactions, which didn’t, and which were successful. If it can’t do that, it’s not going to solve any real-world problems.

Which brings me to…

Lack of Bespoke Analytics

One of the obvious truths about analytics in the modern world is that no bespoke analytics solution is going to deliver everything you need. Even mature, enterprise solutions like Adobe Analytics don’t deliver all of the visualization and analytics you need. What bespoke analytics tools should deliver is analytics uniquely contextualized to the business problem. This business contextualization is hard to get out of general purpose tools; so it’s the real life-blood of industry and application targeted solutions. If a solution doesn’t deliver this, it’s ripe for replacement by general purpose analytic platforms. But by going exclusively to general purpose solutions, the organization will lose the shorter time to value that targeted analytics can provide.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of in-store customer tracking tools seem to deliver the sort of generic reports and charts that you might expect from an offshore outfit doing $10/hour Tableau reports. The whole point of bespoke solutions is to deliver analytics contextualized to the problem. If they are just doing a bad job of replicating general purpose OLAP tools you have to ask why you wouldn’t just pipe the data into an analytic warehouse.

Which brings me to my final point…

Lack of a True Event Level Data Feed

No matter how good your bespoke analytics solution is, it won’t solve every problem. It isn’t going to visualize data better than Tableau. It won’t be as cognitive as Watson. Or as good a platform for integration as Datameer. And its analytics capabilities are not going to equal SAS or R. Part of being a good analytics solution in today’s world is recognizing that custom-fit solutions need to integrate into a broader data science world. For in-store customer journey tracking, this is especially important because the solution and the data collection mechanism are often bound together (much as they are in most digital analytics). So if you’re solution doesn’t open up the data, you CAN’T use that data in other tools.

That should be a deal killer. Any tool that doesn’t provide a true, event level data feed (not aggregated report-level data which is useless in most of those other solutions) to your analytics warehouse doesn’t deserve to be on an enterprise short-list of customer journey tracking tools.

Open integration and enterprise data ownership should be table stakes in today’s world.

Summing it Up

There’s a lot not to like about the current generation of in-store customer journey solutions. For the most part, they haven’t delivered the necessary capabilities to solve real-world problems in retail. They lack adequate journey tracking, real segmentation, proper store contextualization, bespoke analytics, and open data feeds. These are the tools essential to solving real-world problems. Not surprisingly, the widespread perception among those who’ve tried these solutions is that they simply don’t add much value.

For us at Digital Mortar, the challenge isn’t being better than these solutions. That’s not how we’re measuring ourselves, because being better isn’t enough. We have to be good enough to drive real-world improvement.

That’s much harder.

In my next post(s), I’ll show how we’ve engineered our new platform, DM1, to include these capabilities and how that, in turn, can help drive real-world improvement.

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