Big Lots’ approach to building an identity roadmap

As a national retailer, Big Lots faces challenges that affect many other brands and competitors due to the changing identity landscape and rising customer expectations. To deliver relevant customer experiences, they decided to put a roadmap in place to align organizational teams and connect customer data.

“Creating and delivering a great customer experience starts with the ability to identify your customers at all touch points,” said Amy Nelson, Big Lots’ vice president of customer relationship management, loyalty and analytics, at The MarTech Conference.

Overcoming identity challenges

“The rate of change in technology, privacy regulations, and a lag in the evolution of some organizational structures to put the customer at the center and break down channel silos makes it even more challenging to stay relevant,” said Nelson.

Apple’s intelligent tracking protection and Google’s announced phasing out of third-party cookies fundamentally changes brands’ abilities to identify customers on the open web. Other identity challenges include state legislation like the California Consumer Privacy Act and Europe’s General Data Protection Act.

More trouble loomed for Big Lots when Apple rolled out mail privacy protection in 2021.

“We had to quickly pivot and find another way to identify customers to continue delivering a relevant experience,” Nelson said. “And the rapidly changing landscape means that teams and their tech stacks need to be agile, innovative and quick to respond to these types of changes.”

Dig deeper: With Apple privacy protections hurting revenue, some companies are finding ways around it

Focusing on data that drives experience

To maintain relevant customer experiences, brands must have a thorough understanding of the data tied to these experiences.

“Just as brands are putting the customer experience at the forefront of their businesses, identity must be attached to that,” said Nelson. “Functional areas need to be focused not only on what the experience looks like, but what data is leveraged and captured to create the next action in the experience.”

She added, “Identity needs to have a clear ownership in the organization and this is equal parts IT and the business. I’ve seen this work well when IT has responsibility for data collection and compliance rules, and the business teams own [the task of] creating a common and holistic identity for analytics, predictive modeling and activation.”

Dig deeper: What is identity resolution and how are platforms adapting to privacy changes?

Assembling data technology and teams

In order to set up their customer experiences for success, Big Lots implemented a customer data platform several years ago. With customer data centralized, they then launched their current analytics environment.

To round out their stack, Big Lots partnered with customer experience technology company Merkle to use their Merkury identity technology.

“We also built an analytics and data science team, and a customer marketing team,” said Nelson. “And then we stood up a customer-level test-to-learn pod, and that’s a cross functional pod team that operates in an agile fashion, and it’s delivered great value to the organization and to our customers.” 

She added, “We’re continuing to build out our marketing technology stock to enable us to deliver personalized messages and offers at scale, but we’re making progress with the tools that we have.”

Keeping customers first in your strategic roadmap

“A single, common customer identity is essential when you have multiple systems and teams,” Nelson said.

When creating optimal experiences for customers across many channels, this involves many different teams, and they might not all be familiar with the data.

This is where an organization-wide assessment and roadmap become crucial. But keep the customer experience top-of-mind throughout the process.

“Build out a roadmap that lays out the goals for the customer,” said Nelson. “Remember, start with the customer and work backward toward the technology…Team members change, leadership changes, and then the [identity] landscape changes. So, build out the roadmap and then continue to ensure alignment across the business.”

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