Data isn’t new to retail, but it has taken on a new element as omnichannel commerce has become the industry standard for retailers wanting to connect with consumers where and when they want to engage with brands. Retailers leaning into omnichannel can capture more detailed data and use it to provide superior customer experiences, providing a competitive edge.

However, the way data is captured and used can play a big role in how effectively retailers can make use of it, especially when capabilities like real-time stock levels and instantaneous customer engagement are needed to assist in the customer journey and drive sales to completion.

When customers are flooded with options at the tip of their fingers, this becomes increasingly important. With intelligent use of data, retailers can gain valuable insight into things like customer behaviour and inventory forecasts to help drive consumer engagement and conversion.

Drawing from data on the move

When it comes to utilising data, there’s one way to ensure responsiveness in the moment, and that is by tapping into data as it happens. Traditionally, retail lines of business that are reliant on data are supported through batch processing, which is when the processing and analysis happens on sets of pre-stored data in large loads at set periods of time. This batch processing creates a lag between the event that created the data, and the ability to react to the event with data-informed intent. 

However, if retailers capture and process customer interactions as they happen, they can build a data-rich view of their actions and preferences to engage with them in the most meaningful ways, personalising their experiences, across every channel, in the moment. This approach relies on processing data as it’s produced and streaming it for access, wherever it’s needed, made possible by data streaming platforms.

One upside of this approach for retailers is that data from all corners of the omnichannel customer journey and across the business can be consolidated, processed and analysed during customer interactions and provide rich dynamic digital front-end customer experiences, all while delivering software-driven backend efficiencies through data re-usability.

Here are three ways retailers can tap data in the moment to drive better sales:

1. Dynamic personalisation

Offering customers the right product at the right time and in the right place is a surefire way to maximise customer loyalty and engagement, as competition for consumers’ attention — and wallet-share — rises to fierce new heights. Companies across Australia are using data streaming platforms right now to personalise the shopping experience with innovations such as digital receipts that enhance customer experience and provide an opportunity for offerings relevant to the customer at the time of interaction.

In an omnichannel environment, the only way to get the timing, the offer and the channel right is by delving into the data as it flows into the organisation. It takes a real-time and centralised stream of the customer and event data from both first-party and third-party sources to get this right. But once that is accomplished, retailers have the chance to achieve a hyper-personalised approach to customer engagement, providing the most relevant offers at the most valuable moments.

2. Consistent experiences across all channels

When you order a ride on your mobile app, you should expect to know, promptly, who’s driving you, how much it will cost and when they’ll arrive. When a transaction happens on your credit card, you would expect to be notified, and when your local retailer’s website says they have your item in stock, you expect it to be there when you drive out to their store. 

Retailers that understand this capture customers’ attention as they shift from one interaction to another, be it on a mobile device, online platform, or physical store. In short, consumers are now omnichannel by nature, and retailers need to be as well if they want their business and loyalty.

When it comes to omnichannel success, the biggest barrier is data silos. Each platform, device, shopfront or retail system has its own set of data. Weaving all of that data into a single source of real-time truth with a unified data platform is key to creating a consistent brand experience across every single sales channel. With a unified data flow, retailers can engage consistently, and exceed customer expectations, regardless of the channel.

3. Real-time inventory optimisation

Good inventory management is often the secret sauce of a good retail business. Overstocking items can mean tied-up capital while understocking items can mean lost sales – neither of which is ideal during peak sales periods. And with consumers frequently expecting to receive their purchases quickly, efficient stock management is increasingly important. 

Right now, real-time inventory ledgers and management is driving automatic warehouse ordering and supply chain, which means keeping stock provisions lean and aligned with current demand, and having trucks on the road for as little time as possible. As with omnichannel engagement, real-time inventory management only works when data from all sales and partner networks channels and backend business systems can be combined and analysed in one single, live stream.

This is made possible by data streaming platforms, and this approach is the foundation through which Australian and global retailing giants deliver seamless, real-time inventory management to better meet customer demand, all while reducing operational costs.

These three approaches to meeting customer demand and driving consumer engagement may not seem simple, though it can be. The trick is to underpin these approaches with the technology needed to compete at the pace today’s consumers expect, in an always connected, omnichannel world. With the right mix of technology and tactics, retailers have the potential to make the most of every opportunity.

Simon Laskaj is regional director for Australia & New Zealand at Confluent.