Why Ecommerce Brands Need a 360-Degree View of Their Customers

Jamie Deveney
Diagram of a 360 degree view of your customer with commerce data

If you run an ecommerce business, getting a crystal clear picture of your customer — who they are, what they want, and how you can best serve them — is the key to making impactful business decisions. With the right approach to data modeling and tracking, you can achieve the clarity you’re seeking.

Getting a crystal clear picture of your customer is the key to making impactful business decisions; with the right approach to data modeling and tracking, you can achieve the clarity you’re seeking.

As the VP of Data at Chord, and the former VP of Data at Imperfect Foods (the grocery delivery service that sells reclaimed produce), I’m sharing why ecommerce brands need a 360-degree view of their customers, how it leads to much better decision-making, and a few ideas on how to get it.

What Data Gives You a 360-Degree View?

Chances are your brand relies primarily on the transactional data you get from your commerce platform; this leave you with only part of the story, though, when trying to understand what’s going on with your business and your customers. Transactional data — things like number of orders and customers — is obviously table stakes-level information; all ecommerce businesses can easily track and understand how many orders come in and how many customers they serve.

One step beyond this transactional data is behavioral event data — information like a user adding a product to their cart. Oftentimes brands obtain some of this behavioral event data by adding third-party apps to supplement what their ecommerce platforms have to offer, but these apps silo data and can be difficult to configure. Emerging commerce platforms like Chord do away with these issues by providing a proprietary tracking plan that collects rich behavioral data and captures all these custom events onsite.

Although adding behavioral event data to transactional data is a good start in reaching a 360-degree view of your customer, it’s still not enough. A true 360-degree view can only be achieved when you’re pulling in the data from all of the business' touchpoints — email interactions, customer support interactions, marketing tools, and more.

When a 360-Degree View Makes a Big Difference

When I worked at Imperfect Foods, I learned a lot about the real impact that a 360-degree view has on the business. Imperfect was a very heavy operational business, which was interesting because there were so many factors that went into the customer experience. For example, we would pull data on everything from customer service to fulfillment and deliveries to inventory to marketing to make sure that all aspects of that experience were being analyzed — this gave us a full picture.

A 360-degree view can help you find the real answers to incredibly important business questions. Here are a few scenarios where I have seen how a 360-degree view helped brands answer key questions:

Why did churn go up this week?

Brands that rely on subscriptions are constantly analyzing churn — after all, your churn rate ultimately determines how big your business can grow. Understanding the reasons behind churn can make all the difference; often they are complex and unexpected (and likely to be missed if you’re only looking at the default data your platform might provide).

For example, I remember a situation where a brand saw a lot of churn around a holiday, and assumed that customers canceled their orders because of the holiday, which can be common for a subscription business. But on further inspection — and thanks to a 360-degree view — they learned that the cancellations occurred because of an email they had sent letting customers know that the delivery schedule had changed. While many customers did churn due to the holiday, even more customers responded directly to that email by canceling their orders for that week.

Why are returns spiking?

When you see returns spiking, you want to get to the bottom of why as quickly as possible. You can easily see the products that are being returned, of course — this would give you a hint, but you wouldn’t really be able to analyze the cause of the returns without a 360-degree view.

In one example of this, a DTC brand released a new product that customers were clearly clamoring for. But after they sent it out, they noticed that returns ticked up unexpectedly. In most scenarios, a brand wouldn’t have been able to determine exactly why the returns were happening, but because they had customer support data and fulfillment data piped into the same analytics space, they could see that the new product, which was delicate, was getting crushed by another, much heavier product that was bundled with it. With a few changes to the packing line instructions, they were able to quickly solve the issue and make customers happy, whereas another brand (one without a 360-degree view) might have decided to make an unwarranted product change.

Why did my conversion rate change?

Sales is a difficult metric to analyze because there are so many factors that go into it. But changes in conversion are something ecommerce companies see often. If you see a decrease in conversion after updating your website, you might surmise that the site change made a negative impact. But this may not be the real reason you’re seeing a change in conversion.

I remember one situation where a merchant we were working with noticed that conversions suddenly dropped. They initially figured it had to do with a recent update to the design of the site, or perhaps implied a coming trend of reduced sales. But with further inspection, they realized that a recent campaign they had launched — which featured a story about the founders’ international roots — gained a lot of attention in countries they didn’t actually deliver to. This led to a big boost in site traffic from these other locations, but to zero checkouts. That was the real reason for the reduction in conversions.

How to Gain a 360-Degree View of Your Customers

Gaining a 360-degree view of your customers can be difficult, especially depending on the stage of your company and your overall analytics capabilities. As I’ve mentioned, many companies rely on the default analytics tools they get with their commerce platforms. While these analytics provide a good starting point, they don’t allow modern brands to gain the complete, 360-degree view they need.

Some brands make inroads through manual, time-consuming practices: it’s pretty common for data teams to export a subset of data from Shopify, then marry it in a spreadsheet with data from another source, like emails. Although this does give your team a better picture, it’s a huge time suck, and often incomplete (not to mention that teams need to do this at a very regular cadence for it to be useful).

Having the right infrastructure to bring in data from different sources and make sense of it is the key to gaining a 360-degree view. Chord handles this out-of-the box with a data-first approach: it uses a proprietary tracking plan built for commerce, stitching together all the information from more and more sources of data (transactional data, behavioral data, customer support data, marketing data, email data, etc.) to build a full picture of your customers and their journey.

Looking towards the future

In a fiercely competitive omnichannel world, the brands that win will be those that have a 360-degree view of their customers. By having the full picture of what’s happening in the customer journey, you’ll be able to understand the real reasons behind changing metrics, and make the big decisions that lead to meaningful growth.

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