Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Hemang Gadhia, co-founder and CEO of Revmetrix, which aims to give retailers a 360 degree view of customer behavior and provides solutions for complete multi-touch attribution and predictive purchase intent.
Today, there is a seismic change happening in how your customers shop. Your typical customer is no longer confined to a single channel. This is your new reality. What marketers across virtually every commerce business are seeing is that the vast majority of all customer transactions now span multiple channels and devices.
The signs are everywhere. Nielsen estimates that each American now owns four devices on average. Research by Google indicates that 90% of consumers who own multiple devices combine more than one to complete a single task, and use an average of three different device combinations each day. Our experience at Revmetrix bears this trend out as well. When we look at data from our clients , about 60% of purchases result from customer journeys that include multiple devices and multiple channels.
So what are the implications of this shift in customer behavior for your business? The big revelation is that if you cannot see a single customer from a unified point of view, you lack the ability to know when that customer is ready to make a purchase or even measure the true value of the marketing dollars that may have impacted the conversion.
 The data is based on real purchase history from several of Revmetrix's retail clients with over 5 million shoppers and total revenue north of $3 billion.
Insights hiding in the customer journey
Meandering multi-device, multi-channel customer journeys are familiar to most of us today. If your goods or services require more consideration than a gallon of milk, the journey below probably resembles what your customers are doing. In fact, when we look at the data from Revmetrix clients, we see that the average customer journey from consideration to purchase takes quite a while. Not two visits, not three visits, but 6.3 visits on average, usually spread across several devices.
Insights embedded in customer journeys such as this one can provide tangible value for retailers. For instance, there are clues that allow a retailer to anticipate what a shopper is going to buy and when. To pick just one example, we know that a shopper who views the same product (e.g., a particular pair of black sneakers) on two different devices is 20 times more likely to purchase than your average shopper. By analyzing thousands of customer journeys, we’ve uncovered dozens of behaviors that signal when a shopper is more likely to convert.
Moreover, shoppers often exhibit these signals early on, during their first or second visits. Having access to the entire customer journey thus allows retailers to capitalize on shoppers’ purchase intent much sooner than traditional intent-based tactics like abandoned cart retargeting allow. And earlier in the journey means closer to the top of the funnel, which means more shoppers to target. In dollars and cents, targeting these intent signals throughout the entire journey more than doubles the revenue a retailer can earn from abandoned carts alone. 
A single view of the customer journey also shows you which marketing touches influenced the customer along the way. You see the context for each engagement: when it happened, its place in the journey, and what the customer did on that visit. You can use this information to optimize your marketing spend across your entire mix. You can see which channels tend to overlap with others, and how often you are paying multiple vendors for the same conversion; which channels are the best at driving new customer acquisition vs. existing customer retention; and which channels tend to lead to the most engagement per visit. Using historical data, you can even estimate how changes in your marketing spend will affect both Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) and overall revenue.
So, data embedded in the customer journey can tell you when a customer is ready to buy long before they tell you explicitly by adding an item to their cart. It can also tell you which marketing efforts are in fact driving outcomes you want and which aren’t, giving you a purview into your entire marketing mix and enabling you to make smarter strategic decisions.
 This calculation is based on Revmetrix data that shows conversion rates for shoppers that display intent signals equal abandoned-cart shoppers’ conversion rates, and that the pool of shoppers that display intent signals is more than twice as large.
Why identification is critical
With the volume of data collected today, there is valuable information embedded throughout your customer data. However, all of it is invisible unless you see your customers consistently across all of their devices. That is, unless you are able to pin down their cross-device identity.
Look again at our example journey above. While this is very much how your shoppers behave, it’s not at all how you see this journey in your data. The vast majority of retailers see each device as a separate customer, fracturing this single journey into three disparate shards.
There are consequences. Many retailers are not moving forward on key initiatives due to lack of confidence in their data. For example, according to our research, less than half (43%) of all retailers use real customer data to map their customer journeys. If you see three different customers, you are not able to gather the data necessary to accurately measure purchase intent until the very end of the journey through a signal such as an abandoned cart. If you see three different customers, you aren’t able to see the majority of the channels that actually influenced the conversion, and you might overvalue certain channels and undervalue others.
If there is a wide gap between actual shopper behavior and what your data shows, one of two things happens. Either you stop trusting your data and revert back to intuition, gut, and guessing; or you stifle your skepticism and trudge forward basing data-driven decisions on data you know is bad. Either way you’re in a tough spot, especially in today’s retail market. You risk wasting precious cash by chasing shoppers who will never convert, and funding marketing channels that will never drive the top line performance you need.
Unified customer data is a competitive advantage
A single view of your customer across devices and channels is critical for unlocking the insights embedded in the modern, messy, non-linear customer journey. These insights are pivotal to your business today, as the majority of your customers engage with you in this complex way—across many screens, over multiple visits, from a variety of sources. Being able to detect when a shopper is ready to purchase can be the difference between a sale and a lost opportunity. Furthermore, being able to understand how your marketing channels are actually performing in the context of multi-device journeys can be the difference between guess-and-check and a true data-driven strategy.
In a world where retail has never been more competitive and customers have never been harder to win and keep, these advantages are paramount. That’s why retail success today begins from the bottom up—unified cross-channel, cross-device customer data is the foundation upon which tomorrow’s retailers will make better, smarter decisions about how to create and measure customer engagement.