The retail sector has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, but businesses don’t have to sit idle while waiting for restrictions to lift. There are measures all retailers, big and small, can take to ensure they are in a strong position to resume business as usual once the COVID-19 cloud lifts — and much of it comes down to having reliable data and good systems in place.

Trustworthy data is key

Communicating with customers is one the most important activities retailers can be undertaking right now to build and sustain loyalty. And while it’s vital to develop communications that are relevant and meaningful (and to send them at the right times and frequency), if your data isn’t trustworthy, chances are your messages won’t resonate.

What’s more, bad quality data can result in poor decision making across your business including marketing, sales, customer service and product innovation.

To ensure your data is reliable, good data hygiene is essential. Take the time to clean your customer data assets by addressing common issues such as duplicates, incomplete or inconsistent data, poorly defined data (data that is categorised incorrectly, such as customers who has opted out being categorised as opting in), lack of standardisation, and re-validate your records.

To prevent bad data from becoming a recurring issue, look at how data is entered into your system to analyse whether the process is effective. Create protocols for all employees that interact with the CRM system on how to correctly input and manage data and keep it complete, accurate and clean.

Protocols for adding data should include using standardised naming conventions and formats (including abbreviations), inputting all required fields for a record, and updating customer details as they change. Prevention should also include evaluating third-party tools to help ensure data quality.

Email is an ally, but it still requires maintenance

Email is still the number one performing channel for retailers to reengage with customers, but just like any other data asset, email records decay. In fact, over 15 per cent of emails on marketing lists are invalid, presenting a costly mistake for marketers, sales representatives and operations teams that trust their contacts are reachable.

In the current climate, retailers should dedicate time to re-validating all their subscriber emails as soon as they can, and ongoing they should re-verify them every three to six months. Validity’s 2020 Email Deliverability Benchmark Report found that this not only boosts re-engagement results, it also mitigates against damaging email sender reputation, which is a costly problem to fix and at a heightened risk at the moment due to significantly increased email traffic.

Automate systems to save time and resources

Automating data maintenance processes is on many retailers’ ‘to do’ lists, but the demands of day-to-day operations has meant it has often been assigned to the backburner. For many retailers, COVID-19 has brought with it some downtime and therefore now presents a great opportunity for them to automate their data maintenance processes to save time and resources ongoing.

Automating data processes ensures records are always kept up-to-date in real-time and in turn, can be utilised whenever needed. This instant access to current data about customers provides retailers with a competitive edge, particularly as the global situation continues to evolve rapidly.

Employing third-party software to automate these processes offers a quick and efficient solution. Some accessible examples include Validity Inc.’s Demand Tools, which manages your data including duplicates, standardisation and more. Alternatively, your CRM system may even have some native tools you can use depending on the capabilities you need.

While this is undeniably a difficult time for retailers everywhere, those that use this period efficiently to review and clean their data, and to streamline processes and systems for the future, will have much greater success reengaging their customers beyond the pandemic.

Tunc Bolluk is Vice President for APAC at Validity Inc.