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Data quality insights from the trenches

If you’ve ever wandered around our blog and landed yourself onto my blog bio, you’ll know that I am a marketer. My handle on industry insight is pretty good (if I do say so myself), but it’s not the same as getting out there and getting feedback from customers themselves—that’s where our sales reps enter the scene.

I chatted with three of our most senior retail sales reps—with Ecommerce platform, software integration, and enterprise-level retailer experience—and recorded their insights to share with you. In this blog post, you’ll learn:

  • How frequently you should cleanse your data
  • What retailers are currently doing to manage customer data
  • What technologies retailers are investing in

Q1. How frequently are retailers cleansing their customer data?

Nick Rusconi, Senior Retail Account Executive: Retailers are trying to make sure their data is clean, accurate, and standardized. They’re all working towards “one source of the truth;” towards a single customer view. Retailers will clean data as it’s being collected, run regular National Change of Address (NCOA) processing, and also validate it on the back end before using it for things like mailing.

Melanie Clark, Senior Retail Partner Manager: Typically, retailers will use marketing service providers (MSPs) like Acxiom, Harte Hanks, and Infogroup for data cleansing—more specifically, batch processing. These retailers have outsourced their data quality initiatives for over the past 10 or so years, and so these MSPs handle all their digital information, including customer data.

That data isn’t easily accessible by retailers, and so when we’re at a time when brands are aiming to control more of their data, or trying to do more omnichannel initiatives, you can’t have your marketing database live with a third-party. Data cleansing performed by third-parties are very removed from what retailers can control. How can you expect your customer to get the omnichannel experience if you don’t even have a good handle on your data? Black box solutions need to be a thing of the past, people.

Tim Whitman, Senior Retail Account Executive:  From my conversations, I’ve seen retailers range from doing absolutely nothing, letting IT deal with it, or investing in the works with large-scale data quality focuses for a better single customer view. How frequently retailers validate data depends on how important it is to their business, which should be very frequently since retailers can’t live without good customer data.

Q2. What are retailers currently doing to manage customer data?

Nick Rusconi: I see retailers typically run batch processes with NCOA updates once a quarter. It’s best practice to implement real-time validation so the data coming in is accurate, but I know different solutions apply for different retailers.

Here’s the thing: data quality is a big issue; it’s a priority retailers recognize. But, depending on how bad the data is, brands may not address it until a larger project has been completed.

Melanie Clark: From an Ecommerce perspective—since I work a fair amount in the Ecommerce space—a lot of retailers use a USPS® API or a tax provider for data validation. I mean, it works, but it doesn’t do a lot for the user experience and isn’t very user friendly, which is extremely  important nowadays. Because these third-parties aren’t actual data quality solution providers, the data checks can be half-baked. Why would you waste money on a shoddy solution?

Tim Whitman: Echoing Melanie, retailers may use non-traditional data quality solution providers for their data validation. The problem is that those providers probably overstate their capabilities, don’t fully do what they advertise, and the retailer ends up investing in the wrong tool.

Retail marketers still pawn off data quality or management to the IT side of the business, so you have a situation where the department that needs good customer data the most isn’t aware of what their options are and feel as if they don’t own the granular processes to manage that data.

Q3. What technologies are retailers investing in?

Nick Rusconi: Retailers usually have some level of consulting that will advise them one way or the other. Every retailer is using, or at least looking into, the possibilities that data enrichment and data matching technologies can offer.

What technologies retailers invest in will vary, right? It depends on which technologies are going to help them get to their goals for that year. Whatever makes it easier for the customer to do business with them; whatever makes them more efficient and able to make analyzing customer data easier, they’re probably looking into.

Melanie Clark: People are currently drawn to data enrichment technologies, omnichannel platforms, MSPs, data warehouse projects, linkage platforms to link social media profiles—but what’s crazy is that they don’t even have good quality data for these initiatives!

The core customer data? They don’t have a handle on it. I’m seeing retailers consistently invest in technologies that’ll give them a better view into their customer data, and that’s especially important with everyone flooding Ecommerce—you have to innovate or you’ll cease to exist.

Tim Whitman: Businesses are making budget dollars available for personalization, influenced marketing, and single customer view. No matter how big a retailer is, the ones with the competitive advantage are the ones who prioritize their customer data. The folks that are creating data insights teams, creating data management strategies, those are the retailers that’ll get ahead.

Thanks for the insights, guys! So there you have it—data quality insights from some of our top retail-focused sales reps. The most notable insights are that 1) Retailers are looking to get more control over their customer data, 2) Looking at dedicated data quality solution providers to help them meet those objectives, and 3) Beginning to place data quality responsibility into the hands of the departments or individuals that will need them most.

If you’ve begun any of the above initiatives and are looking for the next steps, check out our retailer’s guide to managing customer data to make sure you’re armed with everything you need to take control of your data.