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As marketers move to a more holistic approach to their efforts, it’s more important than ever for retailer to be able to track and identify their best customers as they walk in the door of their brick and mortar stores.

The idea is that having that information could allow them to target those shoppers for a better shopping experience. Merchants also say they want to engage with their in-store customers but very few have the ability.

While most (95 percent) of retailers list customer engagement as one if their top three initiatives, just 3 percent currently have the ability to identify the customer when she walks in the door, according to a survey of 500 retailers, the Commerce Benchmark Survey by Boston Retail Partners.

The study found that the majority (75 percent) of retailers plan to implement technology to identify customers when they walk in the door within the next five years.

Because if a merchant can’t identify in-store shoppers, they have little chance of engagement other than general sales and offers that may appeal to certain market segments. That’s a problem as more shoppers do not just shop online or in-store but often use many different channel to shop and not having the best data in one area of the merchant’s business could certain effect other areas – as most shoppers don’t make a distinction between online and offline.

For example: If I make 90 percent of my purchases with Nordstrom online and spend a great amount with them each year, then I consider myself to be a good customer. I know I am treated that way online with special offers targeted at me. However, if I’m out shopping with my wife and stop in Nordstrom, the in-store clerks and staff likely have no idea that I am a good customer and not going to get the same level of offers, discounts and service. They may impact my desire to continue doing business with them online.

This inability to identify and acknowledge their loyal and best customers in the store means merchants look the same at casual shoppers or regular showroomers.

One of the biggest hurdles is not technology, but rather some consumers concerns over privacy. Many feel this sort of tracking is an invasion of their privacy.

The lack of current retailer sophistication in interactively dealing with mobile shoppers is highlighted within the survey.

  • 16 percent have  real-time retail from their point of sale system, which offers the Amazon experience in the store
  • 28 percent use  mobile marketing
  • 22 percent have implemented real-time analytics

The study notes that the future looks more promising with 63 percent planning real-time retail from POS, 62 percent planning mobile marketing and 61 percent planning for real-time analytics over the next five years.

But as the pace of mobile shopping grows rapidly and consumer behaviors shift, the questions becomes is 5 years too little, too late?