A Little Problem With Big Data

Courtesy RetailWire.comA STIMULATING DISCUSSION in RetailWire.com this morning led me to once again think deeply about how retailers are confronting so-called Big Data and applying it to their businesses.

The question posed was an intriguing one, given the continuing hype and mysticism ascribed to Big Data over the past several years.

What is your take on the advancements (or not) retailers are making in the use of data capture and analysis? Is it all leading to significantly improved customer experiences down the road, or something less?

The responses mostly seemed to accept two tacit assumptions: One, that all store data is Big Data. Two, that the primary goal of Big Data analytics is the creation of targeted promotional offers. I have a little problem with that.

When did retail POS data suddenly become Big Data? We’ve been collecting it (and mostly discarding it) for decades. Now that storage costs have finally declined, we can capture and hold it long enough to run a few queries and design a few models. Shopper in-store data really hasn’t changed much, but our ability to mine its potential has certainly advanced.

Certainly data flows from the POS and frequent shopper programs continue to expand. There are even some new sources, like in-store shopper tracking, entering the mix. Yes there’s lots of data. But is this really Big Data?

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A Framework for “Best Practice”

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NOT LONG AGO I WAS ASKED to prepare a “Best Practices” document for a retail solutions company. The task stimulated a round of research, investigation and deep thinking.

Best Practice is a term we invoke fairly often in the retail consumer products industry. Industry associations devote considerable resources to identifying them. Consulting firms convene their best subject matter experts to define and explain them. (Sometimes they invent them outright.) Sales organizations, especially, like to invoke them as evidence of the superiority of their solutions.

But is there consensus on the real meaning of best practice? Well I read up on what some of the experts had to say and added some original thinking of my own. Here’s what I came up with:

Best Practices are the reusable practices of the organization that have been shown to be successful in their respective functions. To make them repeatable and consistent, they are defined by the organization and institutionalized in various ways, often enabled by technology systems. Best Practices may deliver great value in driving customer experience, workflow efficiencies, speed, accuracy, reduced re-work, cost control, operational insights, business improvement and other benefits.

While specific Best Practices may vary across different organizations and industries, some tend to rise consistently to the top. Those worthy of the adjective “best” tend to reflect five key traits: They are Designed, Conscious, Measurable, Realistic, and Customer-Focused.

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Independent Grocers – 3 Ways to Gain a Trade Promotions Edge

NGA, LAS VEGAS – When it comes to capturing their fair share of impact from trade deals, independent grocers have long struggled to match their crosstown, big-chain rivals. Scale is a key challenge. The effort and resources required to identify, negotiate, accept, implement and publish a single promotion are the same, whether the execution is for 12 stores or 1,200.

Big chains may spread these tasks across more hands, but they also suffer from promotion practice logjams and disconnects that may tend to neutralize their advantage, due to versioning complexity, duplication of effort, review and rework.

Make the Effort-to-Benefit Ratio Work for You

The opportunity is open for smaller retailers – who are inherently more consolidated, nimble and fleet of foot – to gain an edge in the promotions game. It comes down to defining and enabling promotion practices that permit streamlining and collaboration across the enterprise. Independents should explore three areas of present opportunity:

  • Streamline and connect your processes. Neutralize the scale advantage by making promotion decisions faster and adopting disciplined executional processes that offset the differential effort. Use automation to reduce and simplify steps and ensure that correct information is in play across functional areas of your business. Harmony is enabled when you successfully align the creative process with the business decisions.
  • Collaborate within your enterprise. Structure your ad process for collaboration and design connectivity throughout the lifecycle of each promotion, from planning, to execution, to measurement. Establish a consistent workflow with roles defined, assigned and tracked.
  • Collaborate with your vendors. Establish a portal-based system that transfers responsibility to vendors to enter complete information about each offered deal and makes it better for them to do so. Online accuracy will make faxes, emails and paper forms a thing of the past. Negotiations and decisions will commence faster while minimizing the need for reviews, changes and reconciliations.

These trade promotion management capabilities are enabled by software solutions but rooted in best practice. They are quite readily available now, and adopting them can be far less disruptive than you might think, especially where web-based technology is available.

The right promotional tools and processes can enable independents to exploit their natural advantages to win with shoppers and capture a fair share of deal profits.

© Copyright 2014 James Tenser
(This article was originally commissioned by Aptaris LLC. Permalink. Republished here by permission. All other rights reserved.)

Do CPG Companies Get Online’s Potential?

shopping-cart-buttonCONSUMER SURVEYS FROM Deloitte and others consistently report strong intentions by households to purchase more of their grocery and packaged goods online. This has been true for many years. I suspect there’s some response bias in play.

A recent Retailwire.com discussion raised this issue in the context of a gap between measured shopper interest in online CPG purchases and the less-than-dynamic efforts by most CPG companies to take full advantage of the opportunity. Are they missing the boat? Or are they just taking a prudent approach in the face of greater complexity?

Here’s my take:

Until the perspective shifts from, “How will we sell our products online?” to “How will we help households better manage their pantries?”, I believe this business will continue to be “just around the corner” for CPG, as it was in 1997.

Certainly, splintering the grocery shop into dozens of weekly decisions, transactions and deliveries is no way to help shoppers streamline their consumption routines. This was then and remains now the fallacy of the “consumer direct” concept. Disintermediation is bunk.

A re-consideration of the grocery basket and how it arrives to the home is another story. That requires a solution orientation on the part of the service provider (the retailer). Never-run-out tools, bulk shipments of high-consumption items, and secure unattended delivery have all been well-received in the past. Rapid delivery mechanisms from Amazon.com and others may add traction in areas with urban density, but the relevance will vary widely by location and purchase occasion.

Unfortunately for brands, these emerging concepts will not simplify the in-store shopper marketing imperative in any way. They do add, however, a whole new set of required practices for brand promotion and interfacing with online channels and shopper marketing outside the store. Set against the hard reality of somewhat inelastic total demand, that’s a very tough formula.

© Copyright 2013 James Tenser
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