Capturing the Customer Journey: At What Cost?
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Capturing the Customer Journey: At What Cost?

September 5, 2013

Allison Slotnick

In recent years, brick and mortar retailers have found themselves at a disadvantage to their online counterparts. While online retailers can literally track consumers through every site click, it’s difficult to translate this into the offline world. So, what’s an offline retailer to do in order to get a more holistic look into their customers’ journey?

In recent years, brick and mortar retailers have found themselves at a disadvantage to their online counterparts. While online retailers can literally track consumers through every site click, it’s difficult to translate this into the offline world. So, what’s an offline retailer to do in order to get a more holistic look into their customers’ journey?

A recent New York Times article explores some of the latest techniques that these stores—including well-known brands such as Nordstrom’s, Family Dollar, Benetton, and Warby Parker—are using to try and even out the playing field. While reading about these methodologies may raise a few eyebrows, some are considering them to be par for the course in today’s society where we are coming to accept that Big Brother or, in this case, Big Data is always with us.

From the moment Jane Doe opens the store doors to the right turn she takes to get the make-up counter and the 20 minutes she spends trying different samples, someone at Nordstrom’s is there to track her every movement through Wi-Fi signals emitted from her smartphone. As they collect information on everything from her gender to her mood (yes, facial recognition is in full effect) and her shopping habits, they are using this data to send her customized deals and figure out more efficient ways to layout the store, among many other purposes.

Through all of this, Jane Doe remains blissfully unaware of the tracking taking place. On the one hand, this type of action isn’t all that different from when you’re browsing on Nordstrom.com and they use cookies to determine which pages you’re visiting and which deals they should offer you based upon those viewing habits. On the other, while most of us, somewhat begrudgingly, have come to accept that our online behaviors are being tracked, we’ve yet to fully accept this fact in our offline world. As soon as Nordstrom’s posted a sign to alert customers of the tracking, the complaints started rolling in.  So, where exactly were they perceived to have crossed the line…and is there any way around it?

With the right mix of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including shopalongs, ethnographies, online communities, and survey research, much of the customer journey can be pieced together…in an ethical manner that doesn’t require peering into the lives of consumers without their consent. While there are concerns that traditional market research is biased when respondents know that they’re being monitored—it is even more concerning to think that we are all opting into being research participants just merely by taking a trip to the local store. While there is no perfect solution, it is crucial to ensure the integrity of all data collection by gaining participants’ permission. Panel providers are starting to evolve their offerings to the point where consumers can opt in to be tracked via their smartphone while in-store…so there is little excuse for retailers to make consumers feel as if they need to look over their shoulder (or shut off their phone) when they walk into their establishment.

Allison Slotnick

Associate Director, Quantitative Research

Allison is an expert in quantitative research and is involved in all stages of the research process. With a background in research at both large and small research agencies and in PR, Allison brings...

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