Why Data-Sharing is Imperative to Omnichannel Retailing

In our cornerstone post on What Is Omnichannel, we discussed how a shopper’s personal data could conceivably live across brands. And perhaps that idea sounds strange at first, to suggest that companies share their data with the competition. But, as we said then, “the idea that retailers can stop people from shopping across brands or devices is mocked each time a bar code was scanned in a store to check competitors’ pricing.”

We believe that not only should brand experiences be seamless, but the shopping experience as a whole should be seamless. Even as many brands are implementing better omnichannel experiences, shopping journeys are still relatively disjointed for shopping across brands. This happens for two reasons: the first being because data currently lives in silos between departments and the second being because many brands don’t have the expertise to turn data into meaningful, actionable insights.

Here are two reasons why cross-brand data sharing will be a necessary part of the future of retail:

Brands will realize the incredible value of cross-brand data.

Today, retail is generally thought of as either online or in-store, but in the future, there will likely be many different variations of digital experiences. The ability for shoppers to share their data with retailers in a variety of formats will be critical to making those experiences work seamlessly.

Here’s an example: Lisa is planning to take a hiking trip and is in the market for some new outdoor gear. In her search, Lisa visits The North Face’s website to search for a new lightweight jacket for her trip. Later that week, she goes to her nearest REI store to browse. In our perfect world, the data collected from Lisa’s visit to The North Face’s website is transferrable to her in-store experience at REI. This could be done in two ways:

Option 1: Through an exclusive relationship between REI and The North Face in which customer data is shared between them.

Option 2: Through a “cookie pool” developed by a third-party provider. Third-party solutions are ideal because they can provide a more relevant experience without sharing shopper data directly with the brand. They are the sort-and-match middleman that protects shopper data and is able to provide the most useful experience for the shopper without bias.

Customers will realize the incredible value of sharing their own data.

Shoppers will come to realize that they can get better personalization (and therefore better experiences) if they offer up some of their personal preference and shopping data. They’ll want to offer that data to brands they trust and brands they know will deliver excellent value in return. In exchange for this data, shoppers will give you access to other data they have collected that will far outweigh the value of the limited data in your brand universe.

Additionally, it will be critical for brands to remember that data on customer preferences and shopping habits doesn’t belong to them; it belongs to the shopper. At some point in what we hope is the not-so-distant future, customers will own their own datasets and as data about them is collected, it will be transferable to them and be able to be used universally on an opt-in only basis.

Omnichannel and great customer experiences all really come down to having great data to work with. Great data, and lots of it, is required in order to reach the maximum potential of any omnichannel experience. If brands want to get the most out of their holistic strategies and customer experience efforts, data-sharing is fundamental. Data has to be shareable in both directions to facilitate better, smarter, more efficient customer experiences.