July 29th, 2021

Back to School: Help Your Customer Data Make the Grade

Back-to-school sales events are in high gear right now, and analysts expect a banner season. After 18 months of COVID-related disruption, students and their families are approaching the new school year with renewed confidence, and they’re spending accordingly. Little Jimmy might not have needed running shoes last year, but he surely does this year.

That’s good news for brands and retailers, but the good news comes with some level of nervousness. Where exactly are people going to shop this year? What items will sell out first? Will recent backlogs at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach affect your sales? How can you optimize inventories across all outlets, online and offline? And above all, how do you use customer data and analytics to keep track of people’s multiple interactions with your brand and present them with a unified customer experience?

Everyone agrees that the pandemic has changed the customer journey and how people shop, but the jury is still out on which of those changes will stick around in the long run. Time will tell, but one thing is for sure: to get answers and stay ahead of the competition, you need good data.

That’s easier said than done.

What’s changed?

In the old days, schoolchildren would head back to school in the spring (after planting in the fields) and fall (after harvesting) with a new flannel shirt and a new pair of shoes. The lucky ones would get a book slate, fresh new crayons, and a fancy pencil box to carry them around.

Not much has changed. This year's hot back-to-school items will be clothes ($11 billion), shoes ($7 billion), and tablets—the book slate's modern version. According to the National Retail Federation, sales of tablets and other electronics will add up to nearly $13 billion during this year's back-to-school sales events.

But everything has changed too. The pandemic has brought online shopping to the front of the classroom, and the retail experience is now a seamless mix of online and offline touchpoints: people read online reviews before buying something at the store, they go to the store to check out a product before buying it online, or they buy it online and pick it up at the store. The old lines of demarcation between online and in-person shopping are gone.

That’s great for consumers, but for multi-channel brands and retailers, it can be a major headache: supply chains have to be synced up, sales teams have to be coached to work together, promotions have to be coordinated. And disparate datasets have to somehow be brought together to build up a holistic profile for every single customer.

To top it all off, millions of families have relocated in the past year to escape COVID-19 hot spots, move closer to loved ones, or because they couldn’t afford to live where they lived anymore. Can you tell from your CRM database?

What’s your customer data report card?

Chances are, your customer data is getting a failing grade.

Studies have found that virtually all customer records are missing key attributes (like a phone number, or an email address), hindering marketers’ ability to interact with their customers and prospects. We worked with a client recently that had one of the best master data management (MDM) practices in the industry, and yet they had emails for just 18% of their prospects, and phone numbers for 39%.

It’s not that anyone is being careless with their customer data. But life happens: people move, they change phone numbers, and every year, more than 2 million even change their legal names. Before COVID, we measured that it took about two years for 60% of the data in a typical CRM database to become obsolete. It’s probably worse now. If you don’t have the right systems in place to constantly validate and enrich your customer database, you’re very likely to send your promotional offers to the wrong person or household.

Do your homework

In the spirit of back-to-school solidarity with millions of children getting ready for their first quiz, you need to commission a data health assessment to get a sense of where you’re currently standing with your customer data. Then and only then will you be able to draw a plan to fill in the gaps.

You don’t have to do it all yourself: there are robust solutions on the market today to help you validate your first-party data against well-established consumer datasets, not just once but continuously through real-time APIs. And you can use reputable second-party data marketplaces to enrich your data along the way and enhance your segmentation and targeting capabilities.

But none of those breakthroughs are possible if you don’t have a way to connect your first-party data with the larger data ecosystem.

Give me a U, Give me an I

When the gym doors reopen this Fall, kids will rally around their school mascot: Spartans; Bobcats; Fighting Pickles. Mascots unify the school’s identity and foster a team culture. You should take a page out of that book and unify your customer data to foster your company’s data culture.

With a unified identity framework in place, you can validate and enrich your customer data on the fly, activate it across all your marketing systems, and optimize your campaigns across all the channels you use to reach consumers, online and offline. Most importantly, you can finally offer a consistent retail experience to your customers. After all, how can you expect to measure your customers’ lifetime value if you can’t keep track of who they are and how they shop over time?

When sales are up, we don’t usually question the status quo, and we tend to lean on existing practices. Why change what's not broken? But this time, it’s different. This year’s back-to-school season is the first large-scale opportunity for the industry to size up consumers’ post-pandemic shopping habits, and the implications are too important to be spoiled by faulty customer data.

Contact us and we’ll help you make the grade.

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