Key takeaways

  • Today’s retail environment has emphasised lower prices and higher sales volumes at the expense of personable customer relationships.
  • Using Complete Listening, retailers can combine data analytics with media monitoring to gain invaluable consumer insights at scale.
  • The aim is to learn as much as possible about past, present and future customers – which means listening to what the customer is doing both inside and outside of the retail environment.


“Everybody’s talking at me, I don’t hear a word they’re saying.” – Harry Nilson

For decades, retail success rested on the cultivation of intimate customer relationships. Picture the corner store of yesteryear, which served its community by conversing at length with every local customer, learning their individual needs and preferences, then tailoring its product offerings accordingly.

Over the last century, however, this core relationship foundation (along with the corner stores themselves) have dwindled. Larger chains and franchises have moved in, leveraging scale and efficiency to compete on retail’s new battlefront: price.

But while the price war has been successful for metrics such as sales volume and market share, the players have paid a separate price of their own: losing the ‘personal touch’. By focusing on value and volume at the expense of the ever-evolving customer experience, crucial consumer insight has begun to fall on deaf ears.

Tuning in
with Complete Listening

Fortunately, digital technology has been restoring the ability to foster these intimate customer relationships. One concept is Complete Listening, a strategy that leverages media monitoring with data analytics to paint a clear picture of customer preferences.

The aim of Complete Listening is to learn as much as possible about past, present and future customers. After all, in order to take customer relationships to the next level, retailers need to be able to listen to what the customer is doing both inside and outside of the retail environment. They need to understand where else they visit, what else they buy, when, and why.

Going further, retailers should ideally try to understand the customers’ wider interests, their social groups, and their goals and aspirations. This extends beyond people who already purchase their goods or services – equally important are the people who don’t shop with them, and why.

Such a task is no small feat, and no retailer has managed to do it yet. However, some are beginning to connect the dots. With the aid of Complete Listening, retailers can tune into what the consumer is saying and what they are inferring by their behaviour.

Heard it through
the grapevine

A key advantage of Complete Listening is how it can take advantage of technology breakthroughs across the data analytics and media monitoring spaces. While the strategy has previously made good use of capturing and mining information from channels such as social media, blogs, news portals, loyalty schemes and sales numbers, new-generation techniques promise to paint even clearer pictures of customer preferences.

For instance, rather than engage a single audience segment across multiple media channels, consumer data across many industries can be combined onto a single platform. Elsewhere, efforts are being made to bridge the data gap between separate segments such as digital advertising and in-store sales.

the heard

One company exploring the multi-sector approach to Complete Listening is Data Republic, a startup that offers a way for companies to augment their own data sets through mutual exchange.

Using Data Republic’s platform, companies from any industry – retail, banking, airlines, utilities, etc – can submit a customer-consented data set. In return, companies receive an enhanced aggregated data set incorporating (but not replicating) data from the other participants. The result is a more fleshed-out, industry-spanning snapshot of customer demographics and insights where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Another active player in Complete Listening is Quantium. Chiefly known as a provider of retail data analytics, Quantium recently announced a partnership with Facebook to better measure how social media campaigns directly affect retail purchases.

According to Mumbrella, the partnership will see Quantium close the loop between digital advertising and retail sales, using data analytics to directly track any in-store sales uplift that can be tied to Facebook advertising. The partnership will also use Facebook’s vast user base to uncover how different demographics respond to advertising campaigns.

complete listening retail vault

Personal customer information submitted to Data Republic’s platform is inaccessible to other participating companies.

The differential

Of course, data exchanged between companies is a sensitive prospect in terms of privacy and security. For its part, Data Republic has recognised this, integrating its platform with legal frameworks, an audit trail, customer consent mechanisms, full contributor oversight, user-anonymising technology, and a set of ethical guidelines.

Using these checks and balances, the startup is aiming to facilitate data exchange while concealing all individual identities. It must also be emphasised that personal-level data from one company is not visible to any other company on the platform. While the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, you can’t get out what others put in.

Another company investigating similar safety measures for its data collection is Apple. At its 2016 Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple announced it would be developing its upcoming iOS 10 mobile operating system using ‘differential privacy’ – a technique that employs security measures such as hashing and noise injection to fully anonymise crowdsourced data.

Every store
a corner store

For retailers, the ability to better dial in to the customer will help personalise relationships, improve the retail experience, and help create brand advocates – all hallmark features of the classic corner store.

Further, by listening to the complete data footprint that consumers leave behind, retailers of any size will be empowered to bring in a whole new level of personalisation, one that understands and responds to the changing complexity of customers’ lives.



Richard Blundell

Richard Blundell is a business specialist in PwC Australia’s Digital Services team.

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