Data and business analytics shouldn’t be locked up with the IT department or senior business people, but should be shared with the entire company to gain unique insights, according to the head of data services at cosmetics retailer Lush.
Lush head of reporting and data services Scott Silverthorn said IT is sometimes a blocker when it comes to analysing data, but if companies open their data systems out to all people in the business, non-IT employees will look at the data in a completely different way.
“IT people can be quite possessive over data and data systems – they try to guard access,” he told Computer Weekly. “I understand you don’t want people tinkering in the database, but if you can extract that data into a beautiful reporting system like QlikView, why wouldn’t you share that with everyone?”
Silverthorn said the retailer’s employees have found insights into the company by using QlikView’s business intelligence (BI) software that IT employees wouldn't even think to look for.
One Lush employee used QlikView to find out which shops were putting toilet roll through on petty cash instead of buying via a central ordering system.
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“It turned out they thought the quality of the toilet roll they were getting through us wasn’t any good, so they were buying their own – now we buy better toilet roll,” he said.
“So it is spotting things like that you’d never expect an IT person to do,” he added. “But somebody just thought something seemed strange, looked into it, found something out and got something out of QlikView that we would have never used.”
Lush – which sells handmade ethical cosmetics – has been a Qlik customer since 2010 when it used QlikView to reduce stock wastage.
By combining QlikView with Lush’s stock-value management systems, the company was able to make savings of more than £1m in the first two years of deployment.
Silverthorn said the retailer is in the middle of rolling out the analytics software to the rest of its European business. The company has 180 shops in Europe, with 104 stores in the UK, as well as stores in North America and Japan.
In the UK, QlikView support is made up of three people, while the IT team has just grown to double figures.
“But once it’s designed, developed and deployed, looking after QlikView reports requires no effort,” said Silverthorn. “It just looks after itself.”
Lush staff – mainly store managers – check how their shop is doing by logging on to a web portal. In the UK, three-quarters of shops log in daily, while all UK outlets log in at least once a week. The system provides sales figures and financial information, and allows managers to compare against other shops.
The system can provide insight into retail opportunities the store may have missed. “If footfall increased, but there was a decrease in conversion – what was it?” asked Silverthorn. “Was it a staff issue? Did it align with a school holiday? Should we have had more staff?”
Customer data a no-go area
While Lush is actively using data to manage its stock and gain insight on its back-end processes, the retailer isn’t interested in expanding data mining out to learn about its customers. Apart from its website, it keeps hardly any data on customers.
Lush isn’t the sort of company that wants to go data mining through people’s behaviour to understand our business, we should know our business
Scott Silverthorn, Lush
Silverthorn explained Lush is very cautious about customer data following a data breach in 2010, after which it went public with the issue and spent time talking to customers about it.
“We didn’t make many friends in the payment industry,” he said. “But ever since then it’s made us so cautious about customer data, it doesn’t come near our reporting systems at the moment, and I don’t think there’s any intention for it to.”
While the retailer managed to build up its customer trust after the breach and has overcome the issue, Silverthorn said internally the company doesn’t want to be “put in a position where our customers feel violated out of a choice by what we chose to do.”
He said Lush has discussed the possibilities of using loyalty cards, but more in the sense of giving customers access to VIP events, rather than gathering data on them in exchange for points.
“Lush isn’t the sort of company that wants to go data mining through people’s behaviour to understand our business, we should know our business,” he concluded.