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Retailers Searching for On-ramps to the Digital Path to Purchase

April 4, 2016


The big news from last year’s holiday shopping season was that omnichannel marketing was the big winner. Suzanne Kapner (@SuzanneKapner) reports, “Dismal holiday results from retailers are prompting executives across the industry to shrink or adapt their stores, and rethink the cost of growing their online operations.”[1] There can be little doubt that the digital path to purchase is becoming a dominant factor in the retail space — perhaps THE dominant factor. “Shopping basket in one hand and a smartphone in the other,” write analysts at Facebook IQ, “shoppers are increasingly turning to mobile to do research, compare prices and even make their final purchase. Indeed, 45% of all shopping journeys today contain mobile. And for Millennials, this number jumps to 57%. Almost half of Millennials expect to buy more on their smartphone in the year ahead.”[2] Lora Cecere (@lcecere), founder of Supply Chain Insights, believes others factors are also at work,[3] including:


  • Decline in Customer Sentiment. The turbulence in the January stock market has an impact on customer sentiment. Customers are buying less.
  • Success of New Business Models. The Amazon Impact is having an effect on Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and retail in general. Amazon’s innovation is redefining e-commerce faster than Walmart can keep up.
  • Disintermediation. Manufacturers are Now Selling Directly to Consumers. The days of going to a brick and mortar store to buy product is only one of the ways that people want to buy.


It’s no coincidence that two of those three factors involve the digital path to purchase. Hailey Lynne McKeefry (@HaileyMcK), concludes that the digital path to purchase is a “real and growing phenomenon — and to capture the hearts and pocketbooks of these lucrative customers retailers are going to have to work harder.”[4] The question is: Where should companies exert their effort? Cecere suggests, “I think that the energy needs to be on redefining value chains to embrace the consumer and the shift to the shopper.” As I noted in a previous article, on the digital path to purchase, the consumer is king of the road.[5] Hence, getting to know consumers and what they want becomes a company’s highest priority. Murali Nadarajah, Head of Big Data and Analytics for Xchanging, notes, “As businesses look for ways to gain deeper insight into their systems, processes and customers, the job of handling large volumes of data is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Being able to drill down and act upon big data is the focus of every cutting-edge business — whether it’s to improve productivity, gain a competitive advantage or drive revenue in some other form.”[6] He continues:

“Fortunately, the new capabilities of analytics technology and machine learning are providing companies greater insight and actionable intelligence than ever before. Machine learning uses algorithms that ‘learn’ from data and subsequently are able to unlock hidden insights without being explicitly programmed for where to look. As a machine learning model is exposed to new data, it is able to independently provide a solution based of previous computations. This is contributing to the great analytics shake-up by helping companies to analyze data and apply findings in new and innovative ways. This new wave of analytics is having a profound effect on the way businesses are managing and responding to the continued rise of big data.”

Machine learning and advanced analytics are two of the core capabilities of cognitive computing systems — these systems will prove to be some of the most effective on-ramps to the digital path to purchase for companies in the future. Cognitive computing systems also use natural language processing, which helps companies integrate structured and unstructured data and allows non-technical personnel to interact with the systems. As a result, understanding consumers and gaining insights into their buying behaviors is much easier than any time in history. Vebeka Guess, a product marketing manager for Adobe Experience Manager, observes, “The Internet today is a very different place than it was a few years ago, and as capabilities and features have increased, so have customer expectations and a company’s ability to meet them. Today it is possible to not only provide your customers opportunities on multiple platforms, but you are able to effectively predict where they are in the sales cycle and offer them appropriately timed information and incentives.”[7] Both targeted marketing and the cross-channel experiences can benefit from the capabilities offered by cognitive computing systems like the Enterra Enterprise Cognitive System™ (ECS) — a system that can Sense, Think, Act, and Learn®. Cognitive computing systems can provide insights so granular that Nadarajah calls it creating a “segment of one.”


Facebook IQ analysts assert that the digital path to purchase is “not only about the mobile experience for these shoppers. It’s about having a seamless experience across a variety of channels on the path to purchase.” McKinsey & Company analysts report that, as a side benefit, cutting edge businesses are using their efforts to improve customer multi-channel experiences to help them transform their organizations into digital enterprises. “Companies that are achieving digitization at scale have found a better way,” they write. “They have developed a distinct structure that enables them to digitize their most important customer experiences at scale and at speed — in a consistent way, with consistent resources, to produce consistent results. In doing so they transform much of the rest of their organizations, from product and process design through to technology and culture, becoming truly digital businesses.”[8] They continue:

“Crucially, these companies not only understand the digital stakes confronting them — they also act on that knowledge. … Today’s customers do not want digital versions of the same manual, bureaucratic processes they faced yesterday. They search, download, pay, and listen to music all in one go, so why should their electrical service or car insurance still make them run a gantlet of separate steps for searching, price quotation, purchasing, invoicing, delivery, payment, and activation? Companies that want to win at digital adoption are therefore recognizing that they must reimagine and digitize entire ‘customer journeys.’ These are the beginning-to-end processes that customers experience in getting the product or service they need, across whichever channels they choose.”

Another side benefit of employing cognitive computing systems to help transform businesses into digital enterprises is that they can help provide actionable insights that business executives were not even aware were possible. Nadarajah explains, “Businesses can now address the ‘unknown-unknowns’ with machine learning and new algorithms. Analytics software is no longer hindered by individuals asking the right questions; the analytics shake-up is enabling software to identify relevant factors to determine both the question and the answer to a previously unidentified problem. With the right data being inputted and through machine learning, the software is able generate the right questions and answers.” McKeefry concludes, “Today, most retailers … are not living up to the high standards of the consumers they are trying to attract.” Tools are now available that change that and companies looking for an on-ramp to the digital path to purchase should take advantage of them.


[1] Suzanne Kapner, “Weak Holidays Force Retailers to Shrink, Rethink Web,” The Wall Street Journal, 25 February 2016.
[2] Staff, “The M-Factor for Today’s Omni-Channel Shoppers,” Facebook IQ, 4 February 2016.
[3] Lora Cecere, “Transforming Consumer Value Chains: Navigating the Power Shift to the Shopper,” Supply Chain Shaman, 18 January 2016.
[4] Hailey Lynne McKeefry, “Retailers Need to Woo Tech-Savvy Online Buyers,” EBN, 12 January 2016.
[5] Stephen DeAngelis, “Customer is King on the Digital Path to Purchase,” Enterra Insights, 3 March 2016.
[6] Murali Nadarajah, “Machine Learning and the Great Data Analytics Shake-Up,” Information Management, 2 March 2016.
[7] Vebeka Guess, “Omni-Channel, Multi-Channel, and Cross-Channel Marketing: The Evolution of the Customer Experience,” Digital Marketing Blog, 23 February 2016.
[8] Driek Desmet, Shahar Markovitch and Christopher Paquette, “Speed and scale: Unlocking digital value in customer journeys,” Telecom, Media & High Tech Extranet, 25 November 2015 (registration).

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