The modern retail environment requires ever-more sophisticated technologies to cater for the sky-high expectations of the modern consumer.

There is now a bewildering array of marketing technologies to choose from but finite budgets require tough decisions when it comes to deciding where to direct spend.

Essential Retail attempts to unpick the most vital areas for investment. Damian Ryan, partner at accountancy firm Moore Stephens and author of a martech sector report commissioned by WARC, believes everything should return to the customer experience.

“I see so many errors being made by retailers being prescriptive, assumptive and downright dismissive of their customer experience,” says Ryan.

Single customer view

To provide the best possible customer experience it is vital retailers have a joined up view of their customer. The days of lazy retargeting through third party cookies are coming to an end and retailers need to focus on effectively joining up their eCommerce, social, in-store and CRM activity.

Customer data platform Segment has launched ‘cross-domain analytics’ to allow companies to track users across separate domains using first-party cookies.

Meanwhile, adverts on Google and Facebook are getting much more personalised to the extent where it is now the case that the product discovers the customer rather than vice versa.  

Shop Direct works closely with Google and Facebook’s sales teams to identify its most valuable customers to serve them timely adverts and product recommendations.

Mattress retailers like Simba, Eve and Casper have disrupted the traditional model by creating purchase intent rather than waiting for it by using Facebook to help their products find the right people for them.

Meanwhile, this single customer view philosophy is beginning to be seen through the link up of physical retail and eCommerce.

Blis Media is able to attribute in-store visits to digital advertising based on location data, while Hero’s technology is providing in-store colleagues with the messaging and video conferencing tools to communicate with customers browsing online.

Hero’s messaging places emphasis on the human touch of in-store colleagues to drive sales, whereas the rise of chat bots is allowing retailers to quickly and effectively deal with common customer queries.

Data science

Investment in data science is now big business within the retail sector as machine learning and artificial intelligence finally makes it possible for retailers to effectively use ‘big data’.

“The winners will be those who invest in data science, understand how to optimise conversion across omnichannel environments and align their spend to crystal clear attribution,” says Ryan.

Retail bellwether Next tailors its homepage for almost half of its customers to display their areas of interest and this has reportedly led to a sales boost of 1%.

Meanwhile, Sentient’s AI technology allows brands such as Cosabella to turbocharge the optimisation of its website. Cosabella has increased conversion rates by 35% through using AI to switch between hundreds of variants of its eCommerce site.

IBM Watson and the Weather Company meanwhile are allowing brands to dynamically alter their ads based on weather and geolocation data. The Watson ads can listen to a customer’s questions and translate user intent.

Predictive technologies are becoming ever-more important as retailers focus on pre-empting their customers and beating competitors to the punch.

The importance of email marketing cannot be overlooked and Adestra is helping retailers tailor its email communications based on predictive modelling, and PetsPyjamas has increased revenue per email by 1,000% as a result.

The predictive space is set to be a key battleground and Amex and Acxiom are investing heavily in it with a new initiative called ‘predictive intent segments’, which uses spending data to predict what an individual is likely to buy.

Immersive technologies

While artificial intelligence and the like are doing a lot of heavy lifting in the martech space there is still room for old fashioned marketing craft using emerging technologies.

These immersive technologies are allowing cut through amid all the noise in the marketing space and are moving beyond gimmicks towards genuinely useful functionality.

Charlotte Tilbury is using augmented reality technology provided by Holition to allow customers to instantly see how they would look in the brand’s make up without having to sit through a lengthy makeover session.

The emergence of other mediums including 360-video, virtual reality and mixed reality are also providing rich creative opportunities for retailers.

John Lewis used a 360 video on Facebook to add a new layer to its Christmas advertising campaign, while Ikea created a virtual reality showroom to help bring its products to life by experimenting with different colours and fabrics, and even changing the time of day.

These technologies prove that martech is not all about the automation of processes, but there is still a great deal of room for creativity.