How can the wealth of data that e-commerce provides benefit bricks-and-mortar retailers?

That’s the question that Charlie Cole, chief digital officer and vice president of Tumi, set out to answer with a rapid-fire presentation that stressed the importance of cherry-picking the right data.

Cole pointed out that data is a vital weapon in retailers’ armory for fighting the “walled gardens” of Amazon, Facebook and Google. “They have all the data, they have no reason to share it with you, so what can we do to fight back?” he asked.

“One thing I implore every brick-and-mortar retailer to adopt from the digital folk is that we crave and expect failure like, 80 percent of the time,” Cole said. “I know it sounds nuts, but…we mitigate those failures with small, individual tests.”

Cole pointed to how Tumi has tested using the e-commerce data about customers to “automate” how store managers build relationships with those shoppers and to anticipate better when to contact them.

“We can give stores so much data to say, ‘We think you should call Richard, because Richard has opened three e-mails about luggage in the last 30 days, and this luggage he keeps browsing…just got back in stock,’” Cole said. “We can algorithmic message the store, to call this person, e-mail this person, text this person.”

The Tumi concept store at the World Trade Center.  Lester Ali

He said the test was a big success. Tumi now plans to put in place an application in three of its New York stores that programmatically pushes the digital data it holds on consumers to the store managers, “with the possibility” of rolling out the application to all its stores.

Retailers should also incentivize sales associates to build a holistic relationship with customers across all sales channels, Cole argued, rather than solely compensating them when a customer makes a purchase in the store.

The latter system, a traditional way that brick-and-mortar retailers work, doesn’t motivate that associate to promote the brand to the consumer beyond the original sale, Cole believes.

Instead, he advocates compensating sales associates and stores in three ways: if the customer makes a purchase; if a customer says they would recommend the experience to a friend, and for all the moments in which that customer engages with Tumi over the 12-month period following a sale, whether it’s at an outlet, online or within a Tumi store.

That system, Cole said, encourages sales associates to help a customer become a “channel agnostic consumer,” who is worth “5.8 times” more than a customer who shops via one channel.

Similarly, when looking at online and store sales alike, retailers should bear in mind a customer’s “journey” to a purchase when considering matters of compensation and marketing.

Cole said the “first click,” or first engagement with the brand online or off-line, is as important as making that final purchase.

“First click to me is a place that I’d put a lot — a lot — of weight,” he said. “Imagine, as retailer, if you could answer the question ‘When was the first time this person interacted with my brand?’”

And while Cole acknowledged that the volume of data that e-commerce provides can be “overwhelming,” he promised that it will teach so much.

“I want all of us to win,” said Cole, adding that, “Frankly, if we don’t figure out a way to be symbiotic across the organization, Amazon will kill us all.”

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