The Future of Customer Identification

In 2011, Harvard Business Review published an article titled “The Future of Shopping”.  The author detailed a theoretical shopping journey that took place in the future where every touch point had a personalized message that led the shopper to buy in exactly the way she wanted and expected.  Four years later, we can see a sliver of this has come to fruition, but is this truly the future? How can we accurately update our predictions and stay ahead of the curve? How can these predictions translate to the future of customer identification?

Let’s begin with the purpose of customer identification. With a customer-centric marketing approach, identifying shoppers helps to better understand them and their behaviors in order to create a more favorable and tailored shopping experience. One trend that is very apparent is that customers are beginning to expect more personalization and digitization.  With all of the interactive, memory-storing, personalized experiences online, it’s sometimes hard to see why real life cannot be the same way.  Simply look at a digital display in a store. There may be fingerprints on it because some customers just assume that it’s touchscreen because they know it is possible.  Therefore, a lot of customer identification and its purpose is to simply meet and hopefully exceed these growing expectations.

There a lot of “present-day” customer identification tools that marketers are beginning to use as a crutch.  This includes email sign-ups for newsletters, app downloads with little use, and pushy ads that can come off as creepy.  Most consumers do not think that being apart of every store’s newsletter has any value to them.  Likewise, consumers have had encounters with companies who “spam” them a lot, or they read about retailers who have had security breaches with their personal data.  In order to gain the customer’s trust to let the retailer into their world, there has to be significant value added.  Value-added features like digital experiences are creating a new shopping journey for consumers. If we take a look at the future of the shopping journey, similar to the Harvard Business Review article, then it is easier to identify the points along the way where it is logical to capture the customer data.

Retailers are becoming more of a showroom of their products, and any in-store and online features outside of the core product are value-added and provide a great customer touch point.  Whether it is a digital experience assisted by a salesperson that offers a useful email to be sent or an app download that unlocks more features of a product, there are a lot of opportunities to take advantage.  In order to know what would work best, the initial step is to let go of the idea of a traditional retail store.  This perspective helps to not fight the growing trend but to use it to the retailer’s advantage by allowing the customer to shop in the manner they prefer.  Consumers have more information and more power and this will only grow.  In order to stand apart, the value added services are necessary.

Another way to provide a customer insight experience is customization.  Offering customization is a much appreciated growth by many consumers as it’s hard to see why one can’t get exactly what they want.  For a person to even explore the personalization route, they could “create an account” and provide some information.  After completion, they have a product that hopefully perfectly fits their needs. This highlights a way to add an experience that goes beyond their core product and allows a retailer to learn about individual customers and their needs.

Customers also have a variety of ways to shop at their fingertips, and this will only increase.  With one or two computers, a tablet, a smartphone, and possibly a watch, people are comfortable with technology but many prefer a physical store at some point in their journey.  Maybe they want to make the purchase in a store, online, or even online while in the store; there should a logical and supported way to do so across any device and in any location.
These are not necessarily ‘future’ topics; there is evidence of this happening in many retailers today.  Customization has been talked about since the 90’s, showrooming was a hot-button issue in 2013, and retailers have long wanted to give customers memorable experiences.  However, since consumers have seen the value that they get from these experiences, they are becoming more used to it and would like to see online features offline.  Therefore, the shopping journey is a fusion where the retailer will be at any touch point the customer chooses, or simply, omnichannel.  The future of customer identification is finding ways the capture data, connect it across the various channels, and use it to create a more intuitive and seamless experience.