Why Salesforce’s global retail VP is optimistic about the future for retailers

Artificial intelligence, chatbots, clienteling and better contextual data application are just some of the big steps forward in driving experience-led retail engagement, Shelley Bransten says

Shelley Bransten
Shelley Bransten


How does the concept of customer loyalty come into play in this modern mix?

The idea you’re going to opt into some loyalty program and earn and burn, versus more real-time engagement, is questionable. You don’t need a loyalty program to know who your customers are and to deliver value at the right moment.

In addition, loyalty is getting redefined. A big piece of it is the customer owning and having transparency around their profile and the data and how it’s being used. Giving customers access to their profile – like email opt-in today – will become a mandate for this industry and brands need to get ahead of it. Loyalty is a big enabler of that universal profile.

Does that mean the loyalty program will go away?

They’re changing. Look at the Starbucks loyalty program: It was fairly simplistic in that 10 stars earns you a free coffee. Now, Starbucks is using that data to personalise. Perhaps on Monday through Friday, you always buy a coffee at 9am, but on the weekends you go to a different Starbucks with your family and buy a muffin. Salesforce is now using that data to trigger new interactions. So next time you come in during the week, staff can be prompted to ask if you want a muffin.

Those are real-time interactions. Again, it doesn’t feel like a loyalty program; it’s about delivering recognition. And it’s going to be through your phone, and has to be integrated into store systems.

As you start to think about how to think across brand, we’ll see more affiliate and alliance partnerships as well. As a consumer it’s about the lifestyle brands I want to be affiliated with and how do I get great value across all of them. I do think you need the mindset of being in co-creation with your consumer around the stories behind your brand.

Voice-activated engagement through devices such as Amazon Alexa is becoming mainstream. How do you see this impacting the retail market short and long term?

It will affect different parts of the market in different ways. I don’t think I’ll buy a black dress from Alexa. I think she’ll help me buy toilet paper and batteries, or tell me if the shirt I want is available in the local store or where I can go in to try it on.

What would you advise retailers then in terms of voice right now?

This is very self-serving, but it’s the reason you need a platform. People say we’re going to be buying from our cars shortly. You can’t predict what the next interface is going to be. You do need to have an open platform and push people like us, Salesforce, to figure out what is the right interface, how it integrates with your ecommerce website or how it can help your physical store.

But meanwhile, get your retail fundamentals right. Have you flawlessly executed abandoned carts? Have you embedded AI for predictive sort? Many customers are still just adopting these. I wouldn’t panic about voice yet – it’s coming – but do the things you know will pay the bills first.

  • Nadia Cameron travelled to Salesforce Connections as a guest of Salesforce.
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