What digital and personalisation look like at Coles Group

Head of digital experience says simplification and aggregation of data across the business are key to the retail group's efforts to improve customer experiences

Simplification behind the scenes is vital to being able to increasingly personalise offers, communications and experiences for customers, Coles Group’s head of digital experience says.

Speaking at a media roundtable at this week’s Oracle Modern Business Experience event in Sydney, Coles Group head of digital experience and accessibility, Melissa Ross, said that faced with a rapidly changing retail environment, the organisation has been looking to better leverage capabilities and data across the wider business in order to be more relevant to customers.

“We have a great group coming together to look at how we really push that transformation,” she said. “One of the big focuses is how we start to break through silos across the business, but also to simplify ourselves internally so we can move at a rapid pace.

“We recognise our customers’ expectations are moving very quickly, so we have to make sure we’re set up internally to meet those.”

Coles is increasingly tapping sources such as its loyalty programs and online membership data as a way of understanding and responding to customer contexts. Already, Coles provides a highly personalised experience through its loyalty offering with ‘Your Weekly’ specials via email.

“That looks at buying behaviours of customers, understanding their preferences and how we get relevant offers and information about new products coming out based on that history as well,” Ross explained.

But aggregating data across the entire business, including supermarkets, financial services and liquor, makes things even more interesting, Ross said.

“In order to make sure we’re providing the right information and offers to customers, even in-store, is what it’s really about,” she said. “We’re looking at how we move from putting you into a segment to personalising the offers and information for you, and making it a one-to-one conversation.

“It’s not easy to do, but we’re working to build the right lens behind the scenes to use the right data to have the right one-to-one conversation through all the channels. Email is a big channel, but we have a range of different touch points, and we need to make sure we have that consistent view any time we’re interacting with that customer.”

Simplification is vital to such efforts, Ross said, and Coles is working to simplify and gain consistency of data with rest of the channels and brands.

“We have essentially a lot of retail businesses we’re trying to bring together and make sure we have the same data talking to each other as well so we have something relevant to say,” she said.

What personalisation looks like for Coles

Besides email, one way Coles is achieving increased personalisation is online, where people have an account. Ross said Coles financial services is another area actively striving for personalisation. What personalisation looks like also depends on the business you’re in, she said.

“Some people have an account as it’s a transactional relationship. But other times, it can be more about the information we’re providing to the customer, depending on channel. It is about bringing that together,” Ross said.

“It’s about looking at the different behaviours people have on different channels as well. For example, MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules drives traffic into our channels, and you’ll have people looking at different recipes. People are trying out that stuff. That gives us great insight into who wants to be inspired, who likes cooking in the kitchen. We can see from their purchase history the flavours and tastes they like as well.”

At the same time, it’s important to remember the customer journey and preference set can change rapidly. “The big thing about customer experience is people go through different journeys in life, so those preferences continually change with that,” Ross pointed out.

“Whether you’re starting a family, going into retirements, your interests and motivations are different. We need to ensure we’re remaining relevant as people going through that.”

As an example of how information is being use to inform Coles products and services, Ross said site information every couple of weeks about what the most click through types of products are is fed into the kinds of recipes created in the Coles magazine, as well as the products to put on special and promote.

With so many different touchpoints in customer engagement, customer experience can’t be the responsibility of just one person, Ross continued.

“Everyone in the company has a touchpoint and is responsible for that, so owns the customers and influences the experience,” she said. “We do have a customer insights group focusing on insights and understanding the customer. But there are face-to-face touchpoints too. It’s about understanding our actions on all digital assets in my space, but also when they are online or in-store. There are bunch of trends we need to consider.”

Ross said Coles isn’t necessarily tracking people in-store yet, but said the group is testing technology to understand where people spend most of their time, again to improve physical experiences.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of people like the touch-and-feel experience in the fresh range, such as in fruit and vegetables, and how thick cut their meat,” she said.

The big key word here is “relevance”, Ross said. “If I’m about to head into retirement, I don’t want information about nappies,” she said. “If I am getting information from any brand under Coles, it has to be doing something for me. Lots of companies are trying to give you information in one way or another. It needs to be relevant, show or help me understanding something, help me to do something in an easier, better way and provide me with value.”

The digital transformation journey

If there’s one big learning for Ross on the digital journey so far, it’s that no one has it perfect and it’s different everywhere you go.

“Across the brands, the view I’m getting is that every part of retail is going through similar but different challenges,” she commented. “It can depend on what’s happening in the market, if you have the right skillset and organisation structure to support that, and if you’re getting the right insights from your customers to enable the right decisions.

“Lots of people have great data, but are we utilising the right data and making the right decisions driven by the data? That stuff is not easy to set up. There are many challenges, it’s about constantly trying to work out a better way of optimising that.”

Ross also believed that over the next couple of years, digital and technology will be absorbed into everyone’s skillsets as part of the tools of how to do business.

“What we’re trying to do is get rid of all the manual, time-consuming tasks and get better at automating those, so we can do more important things, like providing better customer services,” she added.

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