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Customer identity management still thorn in side of e-commerce

As mobile e-commerce gathers steam, companies are struggling to make it a frictionless reality for customers and pain-free for themselves.

ATLANTA -- As customers increasingly go mobile, companies are struggling to keep pace with accompanying data challenges in order to serve them effectively.

Today's consumer can now use a smartphone not only to research products but also potentially to buy them online. The advent of mobile apps, electronic payment services like Apple Pay and mobile wallet technologies have made it increasingly easy for consumers to use mobile devices to purchase products -- and for companies to gather data about them in the process. But increased mobile adoption has also placed additional pressures on companies to make that experience easy, secure and feasible given their own technology and data constraints.

Research suggests that mobile is an increasingly compelling e-commerce channel for consumers. According to 2013 data from comScore, for example, mobile purchases accounted for 55% of online purchases compared with desktops at 45%. Consumers now have new options for paying via mobile devices, browsing products on their phones and redeeming loyalty points or other offers when they shop with a mobile device. But even as the mobile consumer experience becomes more friction-free, companies can't always connect the dots on consumers' behavior with customer identity management technologies.

"We're looking across the board to create the same experience in all channels," said John Holland, senior manager of digital analytics at Atlanta-based Home Depot, during the Social Shake-Up conference held in that same city this week. "But everything is so siloed. There are big pockets of data in various places that are hard to unify," he said.

With those data silos, a customer might have received multiple messages about items left in an abandoned online shopping cart, possibly receiving an alert via email, Facebook and other channels. But today, the Home Depot is trying to consolidate customer identities in various channels to have one 360-degree view of the customer.

Unifying customer digital identity

Part of the challenge is to create a unifying identity for a consumer as he or she travels from one channel to another. So, for example, companies need to be able to identify a customer on social media and link that customer's Twitter handle, say, to account information in a customer relationship management (CRM) database online and to the customer information that resides in a mobile app.

"You need to be able to sync the [customer] identity from the app to the device to the Web," said Beth Gregg, co-founder of ShopperBridge, a company that develops mobile advertising technology. For example, music streaming service Spotify "is a killer app because it authenticates [user identity] on the back end."

Companies can begin to close the loop on this data by mapping customer journeys -- or the various paths through which consumers use multiple commerce channels, said Mark Josephson, the CEO of Bitly, a URL shortening service. Companies must understand the various ways in which customers travel through to ultimately link their digital identities and information from these different avenues.

You need to be able to sync the [customer] identity from the app to the device to the Web.
Beth Greggco-founder, ShopperBridge

"When you focus on the customer journey," said Josephson, "the channel goes away." That is, by linking customer data into a single profile, the medium through which a customer communicates becomes unimportant because companies can unify fragmented data through a common customer identity. At the same time, Josephson acknowledged, unified customer identities are still a distant reality. "Companies have thousands of customer journeys," he said. "It can be difficult to focus on one."

Monitor and measure customer data

Holland indicated that it's important to unify this data by religiously tracking customer behavior. "Nothing makes me want to pull my hair out more than things that aren't measurable," Holland said. "You can't manage what you don't measure."

Email messages, for example, should have tracking codes assigned to them, and a CRM database needs to connect to marketing automation software so that companies can link email communications with customer account information.

However, Josephson warned, excessive experimentation can be a company's downfall. Testing too many initiatives at once can be counterproductive. "Start with some basic tracking," Josephson said. "Then iterate."

Moreover, he added, don't inundate each channel with too many efforts. "Don't try to push too much through one channel. It overwhelms customers and staff, and it's ineffective messaging."

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