Alliance Data develops private label, co-brand, and business credit card programs for many of the world’s most recognizable brands, providing them with actionable insights about their customers that drive sales and loyalty. They recently released their annual Now, New, Next 2019 retail trends report.
 
Loyalty360 sat down with Shannon Andrick, Vice President of Marketing Advancement at Alliance Data, to discuss the state of retail today, the customer experience, and key industry trends on the horizon that will impact both. 
 
What advice do you have for brands trying to improve the customer journey?
 
At the end of the day, the customer is the only channel that matters. Brands that are putting their customer at the center of their strategies and enabling truly fluid, customer-directed experiences are setting themselves up for success. Time and attention are just as valuable as spend in today’s retail economy, and winning brands are strategically connecting all of their assets and channels to remove friction and serve up what the customer wants, on demand and in real time.
 
Do you think brands should embrace the social responsibility movement? Why or why not?
 
Today’s customers—especially the younger generations—expect that brands will take a position on a cause or issue. We certainly see evidence of brands successfully embracing social movements when it’s right for their customers and their brand. For example, as a part of the body positivity movement, Nordstrom and Express are both expanding their size offerings. Abercrombie & Fitch’s gender-neutral kids’ clothing line is also a bold effort to be more inclusive and socially conscious. The task for brands is to ensure their efforts reflect what’s important to their customers, as well as authentic to who they are. 
 
How is the in-store customer experience changing?
 
Stores will always have a critical role in the retail experience. In the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of experimentation in new store formats, hospitality elements, and service offerings. Retailers are using their stores to bring their brand promise to life, focusing on services and experiences that showcase how the brand can fulfill customers’ functional and emotional needs. Here we’re seeing brands focus on actual product usage in store, as well as adjacent experiences and services that complement the brand. For example, DSW is rolling out in-store services such as shoe repair, fitting for custom insoles, and pedicures, while JOANN’s Creator’s Studio offers classes, events, and sewing machine rentals. These investments demonstrate the important and engaging role the store environment can have, serving as a showcase for brands and bringing their customers together.
 
How do you think brands should strategize for personalization?
 
It’s no secret that personalization is a winning strategy with today’s consumers, and now we’re seeing brands execute more advanced, deeper levels of customization than ever before. I love the example of Eison Triple Thread, a custom menswear company that uses the shopper’s Spotify listening habits to design made-to-order menswear looks. The foundation for efforts like this is data, and using data in more innovative, creative ways. As brands think about strategizing for personalization, the first step is knowing their customers, and having a robust strategy around data and insights.
 
What can other retailers learn from brands that deal in secondhand merchandise?
 
What is old is truly new again, and the secondhand market is growing at a record pace. In fact, consumers are flocking to it. What’s particularly interesting is what the secondhand market has learned from traditional retail—reflecting curated offerings, higher-touch store experiences, and tech-enabled customer journeys. At the same time, some traditional retailers are dipping their toes in resale, such as Banana Republic’s sale of lightly used luxury goods on their website. The key for brands, though, is ensuring that the secondhand brand experience is consistent—and that the goods are authentic.
 
How is social media affecting the shopping experience?
 
Social media is already a vital vehicle brands use to engage with customers, but it hasn’t yet taken off as a commerce channel. We believe that is going to change—and quickly. Better mobile shopping experiences coupled with new social media platform capabilities are making it easier for customers to move seamlessly from inspiration to purchase, without leaving their news feeds. Brands are experimenting heavily in social commerce. For example, Allbirds offered a limited-edition shoe collection exclusively on Instagram, and Kylie Cosmetics offered an eyeshadow palette exclusively via Snapchat. Customers could purchase these products simply by swiping up and checking out. In addition, a variety of engaging technologies and elements, like augmented reality filters, polling features, and shoppable image carousels, invite customers to interact with content and inspire in-the-moment purchases.
 
How can artificial intelligence improve brands’ marketing efforts?
 
The retail industry is just beginning to unlock the value available through artificial intelligence. While many brands have become comfortable with using AI to gain new insights, there are fewer that have turned over their reins to the technology completely. Through data-driven algorithms, brands can tailor website designs, ad or messaging placements, and product recommendations in real time. The result is an extremely personalized customer experience that is achieved in an efficient and scalable way. This is another place where a holistic data strategy is key to success, as it’s essential to capture the right data to enable the most effective AI initiatives.
 
What other kinds of technologies are brands developing to enhance the customer experience?
 
There’s a focus right now on how brands can make consumers’ lives easier. Through emerging technologies, brands are creating products that quite literally work smarter and harder. For example, HP has developed intelligent printers that re-order their own ink, and Wearable X created yoga leggings that have sensors sewn in that vibrate to correct the user’s posture. By integrating into consumers’ lives and using technology to provide them with ongoing conveniences, brands increase their relevancy and deepen customer connections. 
 
What are the most important kinds of data that brands should seek to acquire?
 
To today’s consumers, control equals confidence. They want to be in charge of their communication preferences, so gaining their input and capturing related data will enable brands to have an authentic dialogue that is truly created for the individual. Consumers will see right through any “gimmicky” communications that may include their name but don’t resonate with their real needs and wants. The right customer data is what enables brands to take communications to the next level of authenticity and relevance.
 
If you could ask one question of a competitor, a technology provider, or a customer, what would it be?
 
At Alliance Data, we’re always striving to know customers better. That’s why our brand promise is “Know more. Sell more.” So, if I could ask every customer one question, it would be “What was your most memorable shopping experience in the past six months, and why?” The better we can understand the moments that are most meaningful to customers, the better we can be at creating them.
 

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