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June 26, 2020

We are heading back to school (maybe) during an uncertain time. As the above meme suggests, even consumers have no idea what their purchasing behaviors will be next month. So how can retailers?

One leading retail CTO said, “The customer’s intent right now is the pinnacle of personalization.” [Source: Discover Customer Personas, Don’t Build Them] But what if the customer doesn’t know their intent? How can we predict the future, that is, what the customer’s intent tomorrow will be, when even the customer can’t tell us?

If retailers wait to figure it out, they risk not having time to ramp up. If they don’t wait, their campaigns may be irrelevant.

This lack of knowing what behaviors to expect from consumers comes on top of expected supply chain disruptions from Chinese manufacturers, and regionalized uncertainty about when states will reopen, and when they do, what additional processes (curbside pickup, additional cleaning or occupancy limits, etc.) retailers may need to put in place. Growing unemployment rates and less purchasing power as a result is also in the mix.

Agility in uncertainty
We always live in uncertain times. But now, we can’t avoid that reality. And in an uncertain environment (which is all of them, really), flexibility is key.

So how do smart retailers build in flexibility in their back to school operations and marketing?

• First, by having a deep understanding of changing customer behaviors and needs via real time customer analytics.

• Secondly, by continuing their work discovering personas, personalizing offers and campaigns, making their segments smaller and nimbler.

• Finally, by building in flexibility through multiple campaigns, readied for multiple scenarios, ready to deploy no matter what changes occur in the environment and in the psychology of the consumer. A Plan B is no longer adequate; retailers must create Plans C through Z, and be ready to deploy any of them.

The three imperatives for back-to-school success in uncertain times require data-driven insights.

TCS Customer Intelligence & Insights for Retail helps retailers capture those data-driven insights. It takes in customer data across multiple physical and digital channels so retailers can model highly personalized and timely engagement campaigns that drive growth, loyalty, and differentiation, even in the most uncertain of times.

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Kathleen Holm is Marketing Director of the TCS Digital Software & Solutions (DS&S) Group. She has more than 25 years of experience marketing technology software and services to enterprises worldwide. She leverages her extensive background in enterprise software technology to help organizations develop effective marketing strategies, create targeted messaging and positioning, and implement effective go-to-market plans to improve corporate performance. Prior to joining TCS, Kathleen was a Senior Principal of technical product marketing for Oracle Fusion Middleware where she was responsible for defining the marketing strategy based on industry maturity and customer trends. She also held positions at IBM including Market Manager for WebSphere Developer Programs, Market Manager for Tivoli Integrated Service Management and Tivoli Brand Specialist. Prior to joining IBM, Kathleen worked with four high-tech startups.

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