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From considered to conscientious consumers – the role product data plays

Exploding Information

We have seen an information explosion in retailing over the last twenty years. Customers can now search for, select, and buy products via a range of user-friendly and intuitive online interfaces. Moreover, they expect faster, pain-free product experiences, where everything is easy, quick and convenient.

That has meant significant changes in the ways consumers behave. It has also created an ecosystem where how retailers manage their data can determine success or failure. So, how have consumer characteristics evolved? How will good, high-quality product data be the key to unleashing the future potential of retail in an environment which is so much more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous than it was 20 years ago?

The Journey From Considered To Conscientious Consumer

The power of data in general – its accessibility, usefulness and reliability (if treated effectively) – has had a transformational effect on business. For the retail sector, it has had three major consumer-driven impacts; 

1. The availability of greater quantities of information has decelerated the customer journey.

Customers are no longer simply focused on the transaction and acquisition of products. They are now more concerned about product quality and the value it will add to their lives. Browsing, research and comparison are now activities consumers are much more willing (and enabled) to spend time and energy on.

2. The baseline expectations about the product information that consumers will be provided with have risen.

Consumers know that they have the power to make a mindful choice about any other purchase than impulse. They have moved from being simply considered about their purchase to being highly conscientious.  Various market research into customer trends in the UK mention figures of around 75% of consumers who will modify what they consume. This includes areas such as plastics use, product lifespan and recyclability, dietary concerns for health and wellbeing and sustainability (in terms of sourcing, resources used, or renewables). Where ethics and environmental impact are concerned, this trend will assume greater and greater importance.

3. There’s a bigger demand for personalised and tailor-made experiences underpinned by technology.

Consumers will accept a trade-off between retailer use of cookies and requests for personal data if they are getting more reliable and extensive product information in return.       

And these trends aren’t necessarily age-specific: people over 75 are just as likely to want to change consumption habits as millennials or younger. Two of the strongest drivers are emotional, leading to a positive outcome for the consumer’s sense of ‘self’. Factors like guilt/virtue, wellness and wellbeing and the personal ‘feel-good factor’ are assuming ever greater significance in the customer experience.

Product data

In 2020, the notion of what constitutes a ‘product’ is shifting shape constantly. You could consider each of the following as ‘products’ – hiring a car, finding, buying and receiving a concert ticket, deciding on a film to stream, buying a packet of chorizo and cheese crisps or a coconut-flavoured vegan yoghurt substitute, choosing a new laptop or finding a pair of custom-designed trainers. 

The data connected to each of these products can be supplied in different formats through a variety of channels (and places and times). It is hard to apply a ‘universal’ and limited set of product attributes to encompass all the data for each. Technology solutions like A.I. and automation allow the retailer to ‘reverse engineer’ product data by allowing the product itself to define the data. Alongside technology-assisted process and workflow management, an effective product data management framework ensures product data assets are being optimised to the highest possible level.   

In contrast, inconsistencies in product data will be highly problematic; if data is incomplete, inaccurate, misleading, confusing or simply insufficient for the consumer to make a truly informed case, there are consequences;

  • A serious deficiency in the effectiveness and speed of product data management, which has knock-on effects for all parts of the business.
  • A practical certainty that the retailer will lose revenue if the customers (loyal, potential, whoever) perceive a poor brand experience due to inadequate or incorrect information.

That’s why product information management must be up to scratch for the 21st-century consumer in the incredibly competitive and challenging retail environment of today (and onwards).

A recent report mentions that retailing is “in the middle of…an ‘empowerment revolution”. In essence, that is defined by the expectations that consumers have of being in control – of what they purchase, how they do it, with whom they share the experience and, crucially, how much time they spend on it. High-quality product data is at the core of the challenge to all retailers – how to exceed those expectations.