The path to purchase: holiday edition

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retail, shoppingI find I am so busy these days, I do all of my holiday shopping online. I set aside an hour, a glass of wine and my credit card, and I get the gifts ordered. The must-have gift for this year was a Dyson hair dryer. When the first site I went to was out of stock, I didn’t wait for the backorder. I moved on. The next site was just a click away, so it got my business.

Can you relate? This scenario is a big headache for retailers today, and something they have to get right. And in the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the pressure’s even higher. After the craziness of Black Friday, it’s heads down and all hands on deck until the holidays are over. This is the profit zone: a time when customers buy with intensity, and the retail year is won or lost.

So now more than ever, seamless execution matters. In a customer-centric world, loyalty is hard to earn, and retailers only have milliseconds to do it. According to the 2016 SAS Holiday Shopper Survey, when a brand or item is out of stock, 62 percent of customers will go to another website to find the item – just like I did. If you don’t have what I want when I want it in my preferred channel, I’m going somewhere else.

The omnichannel challenge

In an omnichannel world, retailers have learned that trying to push a customer to a single place just doesn’t work. Today’s customers expect to float between channels with the greatest of ease, so the ability to carry a record of their experience between those channels is vital. We call that history the customer journey, and if you don’t master it, you lose.

Winning requires retailers to move from one-dimensional thinking to a more complete view; from thinking only about earnings to enhancing the entire customer journey. In the hierarchy of revenue, customer satisfaction and loyalty, the latter is the ultimate prize, and you earn it by protecting the customer experience.

And this is where analytics is so useful. When and why did my customer jump out of a channel? Where exactly did they go on my website? Why did they leave the store? Why did they need to use my call center? The answers to these types of questions will tell you so much more than the old indicator of “Did I make money?” or “Is my marketing promotion working?” Customer journeys are rich in detail, and when you take the time to understand them, you know much more than whether your sales tactic worked or not. You know precisely what worked, and why, and how. Once you know that, costs start to drop and revenues rise.

How to cope

Getting to a complete picture of the customer journey is not easy, but it is rewarding. Fortunately SAS has the complete set of tools to help you get there, from data management and analytics to specific solutions to your specific problems. And that opens up a world of opportunities. If customers look at a toy or game online, you can tell them its precise aisle location in your nearest store. If you’re out of stock, you can warn them not to come tomorrow – and also offer to have one wrapped and waiting the day after.

As we approach the National Retail Federation show in January, I wish all retailers a holiday season that puts you well in the black. If you meet your shoppers where they are, and give them the best experience possible, that’s a wish that’s sure to come true.

As for me, I’ll be at NRF to see the world’s brightest in retailing. Join me there to see how SAS shines.

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Carl Farrell

Former Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer

Carl Farrell lead SAS teams across more than 60 countries around the world. He was the chief architect behind the long-term vision and operational strategy to ensure that growth and market potential are achieved.

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