Most of the companies polled in Forrester’s recent report, State of Retailing Online, shared that their challenges in doing personalization were based on various factors including the amount of data they have, siloes between in-store experience data and their web experience data, problems with catalog updates, etc.

A high percentage of the companies polled are measuring personalization only on the web and only about 4% are measuring personalization across the entire business.

And nearly 50% of the companies are building up more stores.

“It becomes more and more expensive to operate a retail business,” said Roland Villemoes, CTO of Alpha Solutions USA, using this Forrester analysis to launch into his Sitecore Symposium 2019 session: Building a connected omnichannel experience with hundreds of offline/online stores.

As a commerce business with physical and digital store experiences, how do you enable data-driven, omnichannel customer journeys?

Roland explores the answer to this question by detailing a customer success story with Pet Supplies Plus, a leading franchisor and operator of more than 400 pet-specialty stores in 33 states and plans to grow. Pet Supplies Plus worked with Alpha Solutions to extend its neighborhood in-store feel across its online experience with Sitecore Experience Commerce.

Identifying the commerce experience sweet spot

Pet Supplies Plus is part of an industry where it’s been reported that 85 million households have pets and customer spending exceeds $70 billion a year on pet food, supplies, medicine, and vet services, Roland shared.

When designing its omnichannel experience, Pet Supplies Plus’ goal was to provide a personalized, customer-centric shopping experience that extends its welcoming, neighborhood in-store feel online.

Roland described the experience similar to when a customer walks into a local “ma and pa” grocery store and the staff remembers their name, what they buy regularly, maybe give away a gift because they know they are returning customers, make recommendations, or even casually ask for feedback.

“This is spot-on the commerce experience we want to provide, which is hard to do,” Roland said. “If your customers are on one channel, you have to be on the same channels. You just can’t really know what tomorrow brings, but you have to be on top of it. You have to keep a close relationship with your clients.”

Roland explained to effectively deliver on omnichannel personalization not only do you need to have certain requirements in place for the platform on which you are building, but you also need to be able to establish new channels that work seamlessly with the channels you currently have, which is a challenge.

Adding to this complexity, you need to have your systems connected to be able to leverage the data you’re getting from these experiences with your customers.

Today, it’s about being data-driven and using the best-of-breed technology, Roland shared.

Sitecore has the platform for omnichannel experiences

Pet Supplies Plus wanted the personalization to create a feeling that you are in the hands of a professional store associate when you are on the site, explained Roland.

“That required a very tight integration between content and the products, and that is exactly the space for Sitecore,” Roland said. “There are a really good number of ecommerce systems out there, but this is really where Sitecore has its sweet spot.”

Sitecore provides the platform for collecting and analyzing data. Pet Supplies Plus has a lot of different types of data — some structured, some unstructured — and all of it is collected in the Sitecore Experience Database.

The important thing is being able to use this data right away. “You can use that data to personalize on any channel, on any device,” Roland said.

Having the framework in place, Pet Supplies Plus can integrate the in-store experience with online interactions using customer data, pet data, and data from across hundreds of stores. Sitecore also allows for making necessary modifications based on the company needs and goals.

“What really stands out here is the personalization,” Roland said. “And that’s what really makes the difference.”

Crawl, walk, run to data-driven commerce

Pet Supplies Plus’s personalization engine was set up to optimize its commerce experience as its customer and online visitor data evolves. It enables personalization where business-specific rules can be established and creates a connected experience for the users.

This evolution started with the ability to stand up data right out of the box with Sitecore, enabling Pet Supplies Plus to track online behavior, time spent on a page, where did customers drop off, and check-out information.

Pet Supplies Plus incorporated previous purchases — both online and offline — and pet-industry data.

“With all that data, you can do really good analysis on it — how are our clients buying?” Roland said.

Next, predictive analytics, enables Pet Supplies Plus to look further into personas, tagging, and build a predictive personalization profile. This allows for the opportunity to build loyalty by presenting visitors with better prices if they become a member, plus additional personalization once they spend more time with Pet Supplies Plus.

“It’s good that Sitecore provides the personalization and predictive analytics, because with first-time users we don’t know anything about them,” Roland said.

Looking to the future, the platform allows Pet Supplies Plus to connect data from more sources using Sitecore xConnect and get automated recommendations with Sitecore Cortex. Plus, they can explore automated personalization at scale with Sitecore AI, just announced at Symposium.

“Imagine the presentation handled by itself,” Roland said.

Recommendations for creating an omnichannel experience

Knowing your data and understanding it is the key, but personalization across channels isn’t simple, shared Roland. Here are his recommendations for companies working to connect their in-store experience with their online experience:

  • Don’t wait to get started with personalization. Personalization has to be part of every phase of your project or it will never take off.
  • Focus on the data you know. As you get more data, create more precise personalization.
  • Get on top of your data. Analyze the buying patterns and determine how to measure success.
  • Measure, evaluate, and try again. Compare the information with your goals, adjust the goals, and run it again.

“You’ll never get the perfect world,” Roland said. “Take what you have – there is always some data for you do to something – then focus on the data that makes your company special.”

To learn more, download the Pet Supplies Plus case study.

Hansen Lieu is the Product Marketing Director for Commerce at Sitecore. With over 10 years of experience helping organizations gain competitive advantage with digital commerce and CRM technologies, Hansen is responsible for positioning, messaging, thought leadership, and go-to-market strategy. Follow him on Twitter @HansenTweets or on LinkedIn.