Modern Retailing – Customer Centric and Insight Driven

Modern Retailing – Customer Centric and Insight Driven

SAS Report confirms that the Retail sector needs to do things differently

Author: Peter Lavers

I was very happy to contribute to SAS UK & Ireland’s recent report Christmas yet to come: How retail analytics can drive sales and brand loyalty. I did this in my position as an independent customer experience expert and very much appreciate the access to insight and thought leadership that SAS have given me.

The report is based on research of 3,000 shoppers in the UK & Ireland in the run-up to Black Friday. It’s a fascinating read, and it clearly sets out the challenges that retailers are facing in these volatile and uncertain trading conditions. I would highly recommend that you download and read it if you haven’t already.

One of the conclusions that I drew from the report based on its many insights is that “following the ‘same old’ retail strategies won’t cut it”.

I make this assertion not just because of the extra agility of new entrants mentioned in the report, but because of the bigger picture that’s painted by the report as a whole:

  • Some of the significant shifts in customer behaviour seen during Covid have stuck
  • Purchase decisions and customer behaviours are in a state of distress, which will continue to provoke changes to market dynamics – both forced by economic recession, and disrupted by customer preference swings and competitor innovation.

This, for me, describes a (nother) burning platform, demanding a response that is swift, informed and customer centric. As I say in the report “Both online and bricks-and-mortar retailers will need to be more insight-led and creative to capture their share of decreasing spend in a climate full of uncertainty”.

Customer Centric?

It’s worth pausing for a moment to consider what this term means. My favourite definition comes from my much-missed late colleague Doug Leather:

“The eco-system and operating model that enables an organisation to design and deliver a unique and distinctive customer experience” (D. Leather, The Customer Centric Blueprint, 2013)

The many similar definitions that I have come across throughout different sectors all have something in common – that the company’s purpose is fundamentally about economically serving the needs of customers, rather than a self-serving aim like maximising shareholder value, winning market share, having the best products, or crushing the competition. These latter things of course aren’t bad, but proponents of customer centricity would argue that they’re outcomes and by-products of putting the customer at the heart of everything we do.


There isn’t a common business dictionary definition of being insight-led, but I like the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of insight: “a clear, deep, and sometimes sudden understanding of a complicated problem or situation” (

Curiosity is often at the heart of innovation and insight. Last year SAS produced a Curiosity@Work report on how ‘curiosity’ is increasingly sought by employers to address some of the biggest challenges facing organisations today – from improving employee retention and job satisfaction to creating more innovative, collaborative and productive workplaces.

Some business people believe that being insight-led is the next step on from being “data driven”, but whichever definition you choose a common theme is that the consequent business decisions are as well-informed as possible and practicable.

In this current climate I’d add near-real-time as a vital factor for the basis of informed decision making, which means that businesses have to address their data management and analytics capabilities, from data lakes to AI processing. That’s something that SAS can help you with.

What could retailers I do?

Christmas 2022 is already upon us, but here are three practical steps that you can take in the next six months:

  1. Take a good, hard look for anything ‘same old’. Challenge yourselves – are you doing anything this year just because you did it last year and/or it has worked before? If so, re-analyse the hard facts and data – it may well be the right thing to do; there may be an opportunity to tweak it to suit current conditions; or it may be best to drop it in favour of something more customer centric . . .
  2. Work your data (especially from loyalty programmes) to predict behaviour and formulate real-time treatments and offers. Pull together your analysts and your behavioural science/economics teams to figure new ways to augment your proposition with service and/or offers that will differentiate you and attract carefully-spent cash
  3. Customer centric innovation. Get creative to meet, engage, sell, and service customers wherever they are on their omnichannel journey. There are lots of resources out there to help retailers innovate into a better place e.g. the recent Retail Week Innovation Summit and the publication’s technology

Capacity, capability, and tools

How achievable is this? I’d argue that it’s very achievable – indeed vital – to get more insight-led and customer centric.

SAS have the tools to deploy advanced analytics in ever more accessible forms (e.g. SAS Viya on the Azure Marketplace makes analytics and AI available at the click of a button), and they have done fantastic work with their STEP programme to re-skill and upskill talent among job seekers via free online learning pathways.

The critical question back to retailers is whether they will release the capacity to shift the balance in the favour of customer centricity and insight? I’d highly recommend that the steps outlined above be included within your (hopefully properly resourced) overall digital transformation programme.

There are lots of examples of SAS customers facing these challenges and achieving success and I’d particularly recommend reading the Fratelli Carli case study

Moving Forward

I can’t emphasise enough my point about being insight-led and customer centric. Please make sure that the problems you’re solving, initiatives you’re instigating, and processes you’re digitising are addressing what the customer needs and values.

Please get in touch if you would like a deeper conversation about customer centricity, or with SAS to discover how retail analytics and expertise can help you become more insight-led.

Peter Lavers