This holiday season, retailers face a new reality as the industry acknowledges the impact of broad changes in consumer shopping habits. Shoppers have become more familiar and reliant on social-distance-friendly options such as online and mobile methods. They have high expectations of a checkout process that is as smooth as possible. At the same time, customers themselves have changed – or at least moved, in many cases. As the freedom to work from home has driven mass migration from urban areas throughout 2020, retailers are now dealing with out-of-date address data. According to Gartner, this kind of bad data hurts sales, decreases customer satisfaction, and costs money, as much as $3 trillion annually. With the top 100 retailers accounting for 74% of growth last year, the rest of us must work smarter to get our slice of the pie. Smart data strategies are imperative, grounded in five key steps retailers can take to reduce the costs and complexities of invalid or incorrect customer data.

Check Your List Twice

Correct address data is a critical starting point for excellence in reaching customers with goods and services. Up-to-date address data gives retailers a competitive advantage – but, with more than seven million American households moving in 2020, this is no easy task. Retailers must update data carefully and strategically so existing customers – with new addresses – don’t appear in their system as two different people. Such data confusion can create costly mistakes, starting with retailers budgeting for marketing campaigns that inadvertently reach the same person twice.

Tools like USPS NCOALink (National Change of Address) and Canadian NCOA move-update services enable successful communication with customers that have moved, reducing the cost of undeliverable mail and improving campaign effectiveness.

Enrich Lists to Improve Omni-Channel Campaigns

If your list has names and addresses, it can be developed further by adding key identifying factors like email and phone data. Adding these elements increases marketing reach – helping to ensure you’ll be able to identify individuals even when circumstances change. For example, a move changes a customer’s physical address, but typically their email remains the same. Retailers can use the email data point to verify that customer’s identity and then update the correct physical address information, essentially merging and deduplicating data for much greater business value. Campaign activities can also expand – by adding phone numbers to a customer list, SMS text campaigns become a viable option for highly personalized marketing outreach.

Streamline Checkout with Address Autocomplete

Retailers can win big with autocompletion at checkout, improving customer experience and ensuring only correct data enters their system. This tool auto-populates address fields with the correct information after the user enters just a few keystrokes, minimizing the amount of work required by the customer to finish a transaction. Autocompletion can also cut costs for retailers as it makes checkout faster and easier. This greatly reduces the likelihood of cart abandonment. It also limits address correction fees associated with bad data, such as returned deliveries, lost goods, and time spent tracking issues and appeasing unhappy shoppers. Online shopping is competitive today, and retailers must aim for the most positive experience to ensure satisfied and appreciative repeat customers.

Residential and business addresses make a difference and may cross over

As more people make the move to working from home, retailers must consider both business and home addresses, and be able to distinguish the two. Since most shipping carriers charge a higher price for residential deliveries, tools such as a Residential Business Delivery Indicator (RBDI) can be valuable as they specify delivery type before shipping. For example, FedEx charges $2.95 per package for commercial delivery, but the cost increases to $4.40 per package for residential. When amplified by a large number of shipments, these costs add up. Knowing how many of your addresses are residential vs. business before shipping lets retailers plan accordingly and choose carriers that maximize savings potential.

In addition, for direct mail campaigns to be effective, they must reach their intended targets. A person can’t accept office mail if they aren’t in the office. List enhancement and full contact intelligence are ideal, offering linkage of personal and professional data for a single contact. With identity cross-matching, marketers can connect residence data as well as associated emails and phones for an individual contact. With this correct, standardized, and enriched customer insight, marketers have the best data possible, and packages get to the right door.

Count on Digital Identity Verification in Real Time

Is this customer who they say they are? Do all pieces of information correlate in the real world? Or are you dealing with fraudulent contact information? Retailers must ask and answer these questions in real time – a process potentially at odds with a fast and smooth customer experience. Fortunately, digital identity verification tools enable retailers to test the validity of various identification factor (i.e., names, addresses, emails, and more) even as the transaction is underway. Data points are individually checked and cross-matched against each other, validating that the right person goes with data provided. By processing identification data through multi-step verification, retailers can significantly reduce the amount of fraud that takes place online, protecting customer information along with the business’ bottom line.

Keep Data Clean, Correct, and Valuable for a Competitive Edge

Bad data can stall shipping cycles and add unexpected costs related to deliveries and returns – yet data tools are easier than ever to integrate or access. Retailers are wise to embrace smarter customer data management as a competitive tool that can distinguish them as an e-commerce provider of choice this holiday season and for the coming year as well.

Check your existing ‘people data’ and verify it’s up-to-date with correct customer contact information. Enhance data further by including multiple identification factors, like phone numbers, email, name, and more – and understand that business and home addresses both play a role in today’s remote or hybrid workplace scenarios, making a difference in shipping costs as well as campaign success. Autocompletion and digital identity verification help ensure a speedy and smooth customer experience while simultaneously affirming your customer’s identity for a safe, secure transaction. These tips will ready retailers, not only for the busy holiday season, but for continued growth in a new, digital marketplace year-round.

Greg Brown is vice president of Melissa (, a provider of global contact data quality and identity verification solutions that span the entire data quality lifecycle and integrate into CRM, e-commerce, master data management and Big Data platforms. Connect with Greg at or LinkedIn.