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July 24, 2020

Customer Experience has become the focal point for how retailers deliver value to their customers. The classic four Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion, and place) have taken a back seat to this higher-level overlay of experience. This shift has often been attributed to the pervasiveness of e-commerce, that has rendered each of the Ps to be nearly insignificant as points of differentiation:

  • Product: Our global economy has spawned wide availability of goods and services
  • Price: Shoppers can perform comparison shopping in seconds across multiple vendors
  • Promotion: Online search has reversed direction of marketing and sales processes from outbound to inbound
  • Place: What place? Everyplace. People can buy anything from almost anywhere

Rising from the ashes of the retail apocalypse is the new leading factor: customer experience. “CX” has become the shining star of retail marketing. CX is more than a cheerful smile at the cash register and a good return policy. The experience of researching, shopping, buying, and engaging with brands across physical and digital channels has become more significant to the retailer’s bottom line than quality, the underlying product or service being sold.

In addition, retailers (and other businesses) are finding new ways to partner with adjacent industries and vendors to develop multi-faceted offerings that power new business models, differentiate the brand, and form new revenue streams.

But how does one retailer do it better than the next? Analytics…and lots and lots of data. By harnessing the power of data and real-time analytics, retailers can customize customer journeys at the level of the individual and determine the next-best actions based on everything they know about the customer, and about past behaviors of similar customers. With this knowledge, retailers can tailor the experience in real time (using marketing automation, loyalty programs, point of sale interactions, mobile apps, websites, and more) as each consumer researches, shops, buys, and engages with their brands.

Yet the process above assumes that the retailer has a current, accurate, and complete understanding of each customer’s goals, preferences, affinities, and behaviors – something that no marketing automation system can deliver. Instead, most retailers and other businesses identify their key customer personas by looking backwards at a combination of tribal knowledge, transactional records, third party research, focus groups, basic demographics, and buying history. These personas drive the engagement strategy for the customer experience that follows.

Then came COVID-19.

It’s already clear that the pandemic is permanently influencing the way customers research, shop, buy, and engage with brands –on an unprecedented global scale. COVID-19 is an inflection point for retailers that has put safety at the top of their priority list. Simply stated, Safety is the new CX, and everything else is a distant second.

Consider the nonstop TV commercials for contactless pizza delivery and fast food chains starring workers donned in masks and gloves. Or Walmart’s decision to make face coverings mandatory for all shopper at stores nationwide. As long as there is a safe way to get what we want, that is the experience we are looking for now.

Almost overnight, consumers are expecting safety to be the foundation of their shopping experience. They want to be sure employees at business they support are safe. That expect cleaner buildings, reduced capacity, reconfigured workplaces, employee and customer wellness checks, scheduling changes, and contact tracing. For a mid-to-large size retailer or enterprise, this means consistent attention to detail across all locations to ensure a positive brand and customer experience.

Not surprisingly, data and analytics are the key to doing this effectively, in real time, and at scale. In fact, TCS offers an analytics based solution, IUX for Workplace Resilience for the creation of safe and resilient workplaces. The solution uses IoT data from employees, enterprise systems and external data to build risk profiles for each employee, manage remote working and commuting strategies, develop workplace distancing, identify hot spots, manage PPE measures, track active cases, perform contact tracing (in minutes instead of days), simplify regulatory reporting, and achieve stabilized operations and supply.

By operationalizing these practices quickly, retailers can provide safety as the new CX. They can also help mitigate the risks and impact of the next disruption, whether it’s caused by a virus, natural disaster, economic downturn, or other unforeseen crisis.

Safety is a priority, but even as retailers reopen widely, will they recognize their customers? Will their dusty, hand-written customer personas help them deliver the right offer to the right person at the right time, in the right way? Of course not. It’s time to forget everything you thought you knew about your customers.

Due to COVID-19, last year’s customers look nothing like today’s customers. Their financial situations have changed — dramatically in many cases. Their life goals are changing (where they live, eat, work, and play). Shopping styles have changed (seeking more touchless experiences). Brand preferences and product needs have changed (online workouts instead of the gym, Zoom calls instead of business trips, and smaller gatherings instead of crowded events). Retailers need to prepare with better (digital) ways to understand who their customers are now across all digital and physical points of engagement. Critical to this effort is attaining an analytics-driven, real-time understanding of each customer, and the digital persona that they now align with.

TCS provides Customer Intelligence & Insights for Retail, fully integrated, out-of-the-box analytics software that helps retailers understand customers — their latest goals, behaviors, preferences, and affinities — and then surface next-best actions for each customer along all points of their digital and physical journeys. The insights and recommendations can be easily integrated to guide retailer marketing automation platforms, as well as integrated with mobile apps, websites, and other frontline customer-facing and backend systems.

Safety is the new CX. Retailers that deliver will be in the best position to succeed amid the disruption and going forward.


Jeff is part of the Digital Software & Solutions group of Tata Consultancy Services, as a lead evangelist for its IoT analytics platform solutions for smart cities, smart retail, smart banking, smart communications, and other areas. Jeff is part of the Digital Software & Solutions group of Tata Consultancy Services, as a lead evangelist for its IoT analytics platform solutions for smart cities, smart retail, smart banking, smart communications, and other areas. Prior to TCS, Jeff was part of EMC’s Global Services division, helping customers understand how to identify, and take advantage of opportunities in Big Data, IoT, and digital transformation. Jeff helped build and promote a cloud-based ecosystem for CA Technologies that combined an online community, cloud development platform, and e-commerce site for cloud services and spent several years within CA’s Thought Leadership group, developing and promoting content and programs around disruptive trends in IT. Prior to this, Jeff spent 3 years product marketing EMC, as well as a tenure at Citrix, and numerous hi-tech marketing firms – one of which he founded with 2 former colleagues in 1999. Jeff lives in Sudbury, MA, with his wife, 2 boys, and dog. Jeff enjoys skiing, backpacking, photography, and classic cars.


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