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Retailers have long understood that ‘knowing the customer’ is crucial for maintaining loyalty and standing apart from the competition. Today, in the age of Amazon, it’s more critical than ever for retailers to access and leverage data to transform the customer experience.

According to MuleSoft’s Consumer Connectivity Insights 2018 report, almost a third (32 percent) of shoppers spend more with retailers that offer a more personalised experience over those that don’t. However, with a plethora of customer data often locked up in siloes, it’s difficult for retailers to piece everything together and deliver the personalisation their customers demand.

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To overcome this connectivity challenge, most retailers are investing in digital transformation initiatives that help create a 360-degree customer view. The initiatives aim to gather customer data in an accurate, timely and complete view so retailers can extract actionable insights across every channel and touchpoint. However, few retailers have found an effective way of building this holistic system of systems. Even those that are well on their way often struggle with using the insights to influence the customer journey.

The connectivity challenge

While retailers may have a strong understanding of their customers from an online, in-store or mobile shopping perspective, most are struggling to piece these insights together to deliver a truly connected omnichannel experience. The Consumer Connectivity Insights 2018 report revealed that more than half (56 percent) of consumers believe retailers provide a disconnected experience across channels, and only half think retailers provide a personalised customer journey. Despite their best efforts, many retailers are still struggling to use customer data effectively.

A key challenge in creating a 360-degree customer view is the difficulty of keeping a central database updated in real time as customers complete new transactions, shop through multiple channels and show rapidly changing preferences. In addition to taking into account the sheer number of systems that contain customer data, it’s a herculean task to keep up with the frequency with which these systems change.

Most existing approaches involve manually pulling data out of silos and pooling it into a monolithic data warehouse, where a retailer’s customer data is housed in a static domain. However, this method is incredibly slow and error prone, given there are too many systems housing customer data that update constantly. As a result, it is almost impossible for a monolithic data warehouse to achieve the speed needed to maintain an accurate 360-degree view. It’s simply unable to provide the timely, accurate and consistent view of customers that retailers need to offer truly personalised shopping experiences.

Seeing the customer from a new angle

As retailers look for a more effective approach, it’s important they first acknowledge that creating a 360-degree view of the customer doesn’t begin and end with collecting data. There must be a mechanism in place to enable the customer view to be constantly refreshed with the latest data from multiple systems across the organisation. That data must also be actionable, providing insights that can be injected back into the customer journey in real time. For example, retailers could use the capability to detect circumstances such as a reliable customer suddenly hesitating over a purchase or a new parent entering the store, in order to share personalised discounts that help the customer find what they need and prevent a sale being lost to a competitor.

Retailers will be in a better position to achieve a customer 360 by thinking about data across domains, rather than particular systems. Each domain can pull customer data from one or more internal systems, as well as third-party aggregators such as social media. With a domain-led view, retailers can gain a more comprehensive picture of the customer than what exists in one particular system. This approach allows retailers to reorient around who their customers are and what they are trying to accomplish versus thinking about the customer from one perspective provided by one system.

Key to enabling a domain-centric approach is the modern API, which has emerged as a simple way to enable others to have controlled and secure access to data. A major benefit for retailers that implement an API strategy is the access it grants across cloud, on-premises and hybrid environments, as well as the ability to connect to any system, data source or device. High-end fashion retailer Ted Baker, for example, adopted an API-led approach, creating more than 60 APIs for everything from products and orders to shipment statuses and gift card balances to ensure that customers have their shopping history available to them whenever and wherever they choose to shop.

Building a network for success

By taking an API-led approach and connecting together their applications, data and devices, retailers will organically grow their application networks and be in a far stronger position to drive compelling customer experiences. With an application network, retailers can ensure greater accuracy, completeness, timeliness and consistency of customer data. In turn, this delivers customer insights that are easier to action and can be used to drive personalised journeys.

In today’s fast-paced digital world, retailers need to meet consumers where they are and empower them to shop and interact with brands across a growing range of channels, both physical and online. With the next wave of experiences ranging from chatbots to augmented reality, it’s imperative retailers implement a connectivity fabric at the heart of their organisations to ensure their internal systems can to talk to each other and share data, as well as with external aggregators, now and well into the future.

This article first appeared on the Retail Technology Review.