Are retailers using data analytics to their advantage?

Computer Weekly looks at the challenges the retail sector faces in taking advantage of data analysis

The power of data is becoming clear to organisations of all shapes and sizes, from healthcare to financial services, car manufacturing to government.

But is the retail sector really taking advantage of what data analysis has to offer?

Research from eCommera found only 23% of UK retailers feel they can quickly make sense of the data available to them to take the right business decisions. Meanwhile, nearly 50% of retailers believe their current business intelligence tools fall short of their needs, with only 16% confident that their data analytics tools provide the organisational visibility they require.

Computer Weekly attended Demandware’s Xchange event in Miami last week, and it was clear from the keynote that data is going to be a key trend for retailers over the coming year.

Demandware president and CEO Tom Ebling said retailers should make turning data into currency an important part of their business strategy.

“The future is going to be so personalised, you’ll know the customer as well as they know themselves,” he said.

Tom Davis, global lead for e-commerce at Puma, said not having insight into customers can hold retailers back. “If you can’t control your data, you can’t move fast enough,” he said.

The loyalty opportunity

Footwear brand Crocs has been collecting data for some time in the US, using the Demandware Active Merchandising platform. But it hasn’t yet been able to tie that data to rich customer profiles on a global basis.

Data is going to be a key trend for retailers over the coming year

So far, Crocs has been able to leverage transactional data from the platform to drive product assorting and recommendations. But the introduction of a new customer relationship management (CRM) programme will give the retailer a “big data view” of customers, helping it identify those customers who have a propensity to buy more easily and more readily, as well as identifying loyal customers to create a loyalty programme.

“We know the customer who shops in multiple channels has a much greater value and provides us an opportunity for growth as we bring new lines to market and expand the brand,” said Harvey Bierman, vice-president of global e-commerce at Crocs.

Over the years, many retailers have implemented loyalty programmes for customer rewards and, more importantly, gaining data insights. Tesco has been offering its Clubcard for nearly 20 years while the Boots Advantage Card has been running since 1997. 

The wholesale problem

Wholesale retailers are also using loyalty to fill the data void caused by in-store shopping. Wholesalers, in particular, face difficulty in gathering information on consumers who buy branded products from resellers such as department stores or shoe stores.

When a wholesaler sends its products to a reseller, it surrenders all data insight of the customers who buy those products.

More from Demandware Xchange 2014

Puma's Davis has experienced this difficulty, he told Computer Weekly: “In the world of footwear, getting data from the wholesalers is very difficult. We don’t have loyalty programmes, so we have no way of connecting to those consumers if they’ve bought through an indirect channel."

But both Clarins and Lancôme, are finding they are able to regain this in-store consumer data by encouraging people to register products bought through resellers in exchange for offers, information and free samples.

Martin Aubut, head of e-business and interactive marketing at L’Oréal, the parent company of Lancôme, said: “You should hire an analytics ninja to make sure you can look at the data, and you are putting energy in the right places.”

But Peter Sheldon, vice-president and principle analyst of commerce technology at Forrester, told Computer Weekly that most retailers are only beginning to “dabble” in big data analytics.

“From a vision perspective, they are seeing the value they can gain from it, but the maturity is low – retail is behind in some respects,” he said.

Sheldon said retailers are fairly mature with web analytics which provide data insights, but they are struggling to gain insight into offline channels.

The retail data analytics challenge

While retailers are concentrating on their omni-channel strategies – the act of linking together in-store, online and mobile channels to create a seamless experience for the customer – it seems that data is key to tying up offline and online channels.

“There’s not a lot we don’t understand about the online shopper,” said Sheldon, “but we don’t understand the in-store shopper or cross-channel behaviour.”

Part of the challenge, he said, is the different systems retailers use for online and in-store sales. Retailers have been identifying consumers via either cookies or email addresses online, and credit card details or loyalty offerings at the point of sale in-store. But more and more retailers are beginning to offer in-store shoppers a digital receipt that can be emailed.

More on retail IT

“They’re not doing that for marketing purposes,” Sheldon said, “But to tie back to online behaviour.”

Another challenge is retailers have masses of data from all channels. 

Jeff Barnett, chief operating officer of Demandware, said: “Millions of consumers are coming to the website every day from different touch points, as well as the data from the social universe that retailers are not even able to tap yet. Trying to stitch that together – I don’t think anyone’s been able to really nail that.”

He added that real-time analytics is particularly important for retailers: “If retailers know you have an affinity for this particular line, they can put a product in front of you that you’re interested in.”

Last year, the cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider added the ability to analyse data in real time for anonymised online users as well as registered users. Based on behaviour and the cookies or trail users leave behind online, retailers are able to determine where customers are from a geolocation standpoint and merchandise to them differently.

During the Xchange keynotepe="application/x-shockwave-flash"> 


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