How to Build a Data-Infused Bridge Between Digital Marketing and Merchandising

Retailers too often find themselves living in a world where marketers are from Venus and digital merchandisers are from Mars.

The two professionals are on the same team — sometimes in the same office — and yet they wind up seeing the world in different ways. Marketing, especially in 2016, is overwhelmingly data-driven and marketers are fixated on traffic and return on their marketing spending.

Merchandising craves actionable data but relies on gut and a certain aesthetic sensibility. Merchandisers live for maximizing inventory turnover and charting sales in specific categories — at times only for the specific category for which they’re responsible.

No doubt, some retailers are moving aggressively to demolish the barriers between digital merchandising and marketing. Home furnishing retailer Wayfair, which topped Internet Retailer’s list of Best Digital Marketers in ecommerce, frequently talks about transparency and sharing information as keys to online success. Jeff Jones, Target’s CMO, has pulled together many teams that cross paths with marketing, including merchandising. At Club Monaco, a Ralph Lauren Company, both digital marketing and site merchandising report to ecommerce.

Many retailers have yet to unlock the power that can be provided by building a data-infused relationship between digital marketers and online site merchants. A new Forrester Consulting survey, commissioned by BloomReach, is providing a look at just how severe the merchandiser/marketer divide is.

In short, the April survey found that, while merchandisers believe they have plenty to offer in terms of building customer loyalty through a better shopping experience, they don’t have the tools or access to the right data to maximize their contribution.

For their part, marketers say they don’t believe that merchandisers’ product expertise needs to be combined with their deep knowledge of customer behavior. They discount their merchandiser colleagues’ contribution simply because they don’t believe that merchandisers have data that can improve customer acquisition and repeat visits.

The answer is to unite the two indispensable forces — marketers and merchandiser — around the right, actionable data.

Here are three steps you can take right away:

  1. Appoint a digital experience manager or form a digital experience team. This person or team is responsible for the entire digital experience across all devices and all of your sites, including your physical stores.
  2. Deploy action-oriented cognitive computing tools. These tools rely on artificial intelligence to continuously learn about consumers’ intent and behavior while also developing a deep understanding of your content and products. These tools ultimately learn the most important signals to monitor in order to achieve your goals, leaving humans available focus on high-level strategy.
  3. Track the impact of the site improvements you implement. Get a holistic understanding of the impact of the changes you make. If your average order value increased but your traffic decreased, is that good? What if your orders soared but your profit margin crashed? Share the positive and negative outcomes with your organization to increase the odds of success. The insights you gain from tracking changes will show you whether you are focused on the most important metrics to achieve your ultimate goals.

Without these three steps, retailers will miss out on a tremendous opportunity. In the digital age, consumers are sending retailers constant feedback. Through their browsing, searches, selections, purchases and even bounces, consumers are sharing their intent and preferences.

Data is a gold mine of information but, without an understanding of which metrics measure progress toward your goals, all that data is just noise. A digital experience manager is able to sit above the fray and understand customer and prospect data while driving action from insights extracted from continuous analysis.

Equally important, the digital experience manager has the opportunity to bring marketing and merchandising together. As it stands now, according to Forrester, fewer than 40% of digital merchandisers strongly agree that they have access to the customer data they need to make the best decisions on the products that they sell. And only 44% of those who have adopted a merchandising tool strongly agree that the tool is good enough at generating customer insights.

However, merchandisers think they have a solution to the marketers’ lack of interest in their contribution. The Forrester survey found that 52% of merchandisers believed that the ability to prove their impact on sales was the number one way to simplify their work.

Digital merchandisers seem to understand that data not only wins arguments, it also has the power to draw Venus and Mars together.

Joelle Kaufman is head of marketing and partnerships at BloomReach, winner of the 2016 Edison Award for Innovative Services. She will be speaking more about data-driven collaboration between merchandising and marketing at IBM Amplify 2016, May 16-18 in Tampa, Florida. Attend her session: Getting Cognitive About Omni-Channel Shopping.

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