Retailers of a certain age will be able to cast their minds back to the 1990s when they didn’t need to look much further than the trusted combo of a ‘POS’ and supply chain management tool. A lot has changed in the decades that have passed since an ever-increasing amount of functions are running in the back end, so a typical retailer now uses a multitude of systems, including marketing systems, communications, RFID, ECMS, ESS, IMS, ICMS, DSS, WMS and many others. There’s been talk of Big Data across multiple business sectors in recent years, and retail is clearly an area where vast amounts of it have been created.
The growing amount of systems are the cogs that have made the wheels of the omnichannel retail explosion turn; however, for all the benefits they bring, it can prove easier said than done to manage all of them in tandem before you even start thinking about the impact the data generated can have on wider performance.
Put simply, failing to put that data to use means retailers are missing out. As the amount of data has grown, businesses have begun to offer to run analyses for retailers, using data to feed into decision-making, or even predict which American malls might be set to close. Specialist data analyst firms can certainly bring value, but it’s also crucial that as a bare minimum, retailers are on top of their own data, and able to put it to use themselves.
The first step is to make sure all the information generated by the various systems they use is fed back into the wider organization. Without this, the data points gathered will only benefit one isolated part of the organization, and will not be able to inform wider analyses.
Not all retail systems will be built with this in mind, so retailers should not just assume that everything will already be interconnected. They could even consider it as a potential selling point of new retail systems that are brought into the business in the future.
Once the data points have been connected, retailers need to ensure they are able to look over them from a top level, so they can see the bigger picture. This means having a system in place that allows them to plug all the data insights into one central pane.
This will put them in a position to make sense of it all, whether that’s for a quarterly update meeting with board members, or a luxury retailer being able to check all channels and locations for a specific item, so that it can be supplied to a high-net-worth customer at the drop of a hat.
The final and most important step is for retailers to start drawing insight from what the consolidated data points are telling them. This is process turns ‘Big Data’ into ‘Smart Data’. For this to work, retailers must look to use the data to help draw an accurate picture of exactly what has been going on, what’s happening right now, and future trends.
Having taken these three steps, retailers can cut through the noise and be clear on exactly what the data points are that they have access to, and start to think about what they mean. Most serious retailers already have years’ worth of data to begin this process. Learning can come from customer data and their purchasing history, inventory data, vendor performance and brand preferences which then, in turn, can be used to feed marketing, clienteling and inventory management decisions. Then retailers can think increasingly smarter about the trends and opportunities that will drive future successes. Then they will be able to manage that knowledge in the longer-term, putting them in a great position to be confident they know what their customers want, and satisfy their needs.