It’s undeniable that retailers are facing an extraordinary era of change. A deluge of new technologies and evolving customer behaviours are redefining the modern shopping experience to encompass much more than visiting brick-and-mortar stores. Many of today’s customers expect to be able to buy what they want, whenever they want it, and to tap into shopping experiences that are relevant and engaging both online and offline. Traditional retailers need to adapt quickly to keep up as the ground shifts below their feet.

Some industry experts view this period of transformation as a “retail apocalypse” (subscription required) and are sounding the death knell for the industry as we know it. Yet there’s another way to see this period of flux: as fertile ground for a “retail renaissance.”

In my work across Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Datorama, I’m finding that marketers who are able to succeed in today’s shifting landscape are those who are leveraging their customers’ data to produce exceptional engagement and uncovering deeper marketing analytics to meet customers’ new expectations.

Retail marketers striving to be at the forefront of the renaissance must understand how their mission is changing and respond by using in-depth customer data and the marketing analytics available to build more customer-centric brands. In today’s transforming retail market, there are several trends that retail marketers need to reckon with.

Customers want relevant and seamless experiences.

Retailers have long recognized that customers often expect connected and personalized experiences from a brand, whether they are visiting a store, clicking on a digital ad, receiving an email or browsing a website. Meeting customers’ demands for engagement is key to retaining their business. Eighty percent of customers believe the experience a company offers is just as important as the products or services it sells, and more than half say they have stopped making purchases from a brand because a competitor provided a better experience.

However, while many retail marketers recognize that customer journeys are the primary vehicle for sales and are making progress, less than half feel that they have a unified view of customer data, and less than one-third are completely satisfied with their ability to deploy it to create relevant experiences.

Understanding customers requires harnessing more data than ever before.

Gaining a complete view of the customer requires collecting and leveraging data from every interaction they have with a brand. That means knowing what a customer has clicked online, what they bought and where they bought it, what their preferences are, which audience segment they fit into, and how their most recent customer service experience went.

With so many disparate sources of data, marketing teams are spending a majority of their time managing, integrating and formatting data, rather than immediately gleaning insights they can put to use to better understand their customers. That’s according to Gartner’s “Marketing Data and Analytics Survey 2018: Messy Data and Mismatched Resources Undermine Marketing Teams,” which surveyed 500 marketing analytics leaders.

Addressing this challenge represents a massive opportunity for retailers. By connecting a variety of channels and data sources, you can execute powerful one-to-one experiences at scale based on what a company knows about customers at a given moment. Once you gain a holistic view of your customer demand and trends, you can start working to collaborate across teams to strategize on the best customer engagement efforts, better plan your marketing mix allocations and optimize inventory planning to ensure sell-through.

Retailers also need to make sure that the right consent management capabilities are set in place to ensure customer trust. You can do so by communicating with customers and providing maximum transparency into how their data is being used, while also investing in technologies that provide security to protect customer information and employ industry-standard practices. Without trust, customers are unlikely to disclose the kind of information businesses need to create more personalized experiences.

Measures of success are moving beyond marketing metrics.

In the past, it was enough for marketers to evaluate how a new product or campaign performed after the fact or run occasional focus groups to gauge brand awareness. Now, marketers are responsible for delivering on a variety of business metrics, including growth, market share, return on investment and customer lifetime value.

At the same time, marketers need to align business success with a focus on the customer. According to Forrester, two-thirds of chief marketing officers say they are now responsible for customer experience, not just marketing. That requires measuring and improving the entire customer experience, which includes marketing, sales, service, commerce and more. With a growing number of competitors and more informed customers, retail marketers have a growing imperative to capitalize on cyclical spikes in shopping activity around the holidays, back-to-school and other events.

A unified, always-on approach to marketing analytics is paramount for capitalizing on these ephemeral opportunities and embracing the “renaissance.” By leveraging AI-powered marketing analytics, you can bring together data in real time from a variety of sources, including campaigns, customer journeys, regions, business units, content, purchases and interactions, in order to see a full picture and drill down into your marketing spend, performance and impact. With a holistic view, you can begin to make strategic decisions: Choose when to pivot or double down on campaigns depending on performance for full optimization throughout the year.

Capitalize on the retail renaissance. 

In order to respond to industry trends and deliver the experiences customers want, companies need to explore and integrate the right data and analytics tools to deliver exceptional engagement, build brand loyalty and increase return on investment. Meeting shoppers’ expectations for personalization, speed and trust requires a unified approach in three key areas: understanding the customer, engagement and analytics.

Retail marketers who don’t master creating exceptional experiences risk failing to capitalize on fleeting moments of attention from customers who face endless distractions and competing options. At this fork in the road, are you going to be part of the apocalypse or part of the renaissance?