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While there is still a significant disconnect in South Africa between digital-savvy shoppers and those who make purchases in-store, the pandemic and lockdown conditions have narrowed the gap. That does not mean retailers can rest on their laurels when it comes to the customer experience. Research shows that given the variety of apps available to them, South African shoppers will ditch a brand after just one or two poor experiences.

“Brands must therefore embrace agility and using automation to address customer needs when it comes to digital shopping. Prioritising the customer experience requires speeding up the decision-making process, reducing risk, and having real-time engagements to stay relevant, valued, and in-demand. Locally, this sees a balance that must be maintained between using cutting-edge solutions and doing the basics right,” says James MacDonald, Senior Business Solutions Manager of SAS in South Africa.

Immersing the customer

Online stores have access to a rich set of data collected via their web and mobile channels. Through this streaming event data, they can use customer intelligence solutions to capture information on what users are doing on their sites and how they are interacting on the online shopping digital portals.

“In turn, this data can be consolidated in real-time to help create a more integrated view of the customer. Businesses can then start processing all that data with powerful analytics to make strategic decisions based on buying behaviour across geographies, specific times of month, and seasonal shifts to name a few,” says MacDonald.

South African retailers can use this data to better determine strategies around stock availability, and how discounts, promotional campaigns, and even the reliability of logistics when it comes to rail, truck, and other transport mechanisms will impact what is on shelf.

Ultimately, streaming event data is important as it helps to understand the context in which customers are viewing a brand message or product. It enables the store to leverage the contextual information through analytics to create a more personalised experience for the end user.

“This is where analytics, automation, and AI become the fundamental crucible in which decisioning takes place at speed. Frameworks become a great enabler in this regard. Business, marketing, and technology leaders can use these to drive structure in the online shopping experience and apply more varied measurement solutions. The insights gained can also be used to optimise the last mile around deliveries, or click-and collect, to ensure that, regardless of location, shoppers can benefit by getting what they ordered quickly, and with more confidence” adds MacDonald.

An interactive world

Kelly Lu, Lead on Advanced Analytics and Artificial Intelligence of ‎SAS in South Africa, believes this data will help brands and their online stores shape the customer experience in more varied ways.

“Companies can use cloud-based technologies such as analytics and AI to analyse the customer data they have and create actionable insights for each individual customer. But before this analysis can take place, the organisation must ensure that the customer data, traditional or streaming, is accessible through a connected environment, such as the cloud. Only then, can they generate insights that are relevant in the moment, to create a personalised shopping experience. This can translate to creating and communicating targeted in-store specials based on the customer’s location, most recent search history, while considering their purchase history,” says Lu.

Even though South African consumers are open to retailers improving the in-store experience, they still see the value in doing online shopping. SAS research shows that one in five people will use a digital service or app to replace in-store, physical interactions. Chatbots play a significant role here to accelerate some customer queries and processes, such as applying for a refund or do a stock check. Chatbots are also another way to communicate the insights and personalisation created with analytics, by acting as a shopping assistant and presenting suggestions interactively.

“Most brands and stores are researching and understanding who their customers are and how they can use that information to provide them with more tailored products and personalised service. Where 20% of South Africans have indicated that they would be more willing to share personal data if they will be directly rewarded for doing so, for instance reward points, discounts, free shipping, and so on. Furthermore, almost the same percentage of people will share more information if it makes the customer experience faster and they get access to shipping updates on their orders. Balancing future-forward innovation with improving existing processes for local retailers will therefore be a key consideration in the months and years to come,” concludes Lu.

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