Interviews, insight & analysis on Ecommerce

Data is only data, without the people who use it

By Benoit Rojare, AI solutions director retail & CPG, Dataiku 

The pandemic created new challenges for retailers around the globe. We’ve seen supply chain issues coupled with exceptional customer demand and product shortages, while the how, why, and when people shop has been irrevocably altered. 

As a result, retailers are in the midst of a fight on two fronts – recovery and re-establishing themselves post-pandemic while ensuring ways of working are built to capitalize on the opportunities this massive change has created. It’s a scenario that has highlighted the value of data and the impact it can have when coupled with individuals in the business with the understanding and awareness to interpret it. 

An increasingly data-rich environment 

Retail is becoming an increasingly data-rich environment as more parts of the business go digital, creating many more data capture opportunities. It has the potential to be a self-perpetuating cycle of improvement, but the challenge for retailers is to capture the right data, at the right time and with the right consent to take the appropriate action. Something made difficult given the speed of change. It should come as no surprise we’re seeing the gap widen between data leaders and laggards. According to McKinsey, “the 25 top-performing retailers—most of which epitomize the powerful shift to digital, data, and analytics—represent more than 90 percent of the sector’s increase in global market capitalization during the pandemic”. 

From the supply chain, stock and store optimization, right through to improving deliveries and customer care, retailers are presented with opportunities for improvement with data but capitalizing on them is often left down to individual data specialists, of whom there are never enough and who often work in isolation. This results in silos that are not mutually compatible, which considerably diminishes the value of the information they contain. It means retailers must first establish a clear vision of their data strategy and then prioritize and champion the importance of properly capturing, managing, and understanding data. Doing so requires democratization and the empowerment of employees throughout the chain to act on data-based insights. 

Delight customers with informed, engaged employees 

The importance of integrating employees from all areas of the business into the data journey takes on considerable significance when you consider the impact it can have on customer experience. Increasingly retailers are focusing on the total customer experience – the omnichannel end-to-end journey that sees the customer moving through the organization with data being collected at every touchpoint (store, app, website, contact center, email, etc) in ever greater volumes. 

In an era of ubiquitous smartphone usage, one-click shopping and an ever-increasing consumer benchmark for outstanding service, data is the lifeblood for retailers. To improve the holistic experience, leading retailers are creating much fuller and richer single view customer datasets that capture and process all this data in real-time. This data is used not only for insight into what has happened but to trigger promotions, marketing activity and alerts for the potential activity to come. But it is impossible to delight customers without informed, engaged employees. 

Freeing employees to focus on the customer experience 

We’re at a tipping point as AI is increasingly integrated into the retail journey, steadily taking the load from employees. For instance, retailers are increasingly deploying smart storage devices, from refrigerators to shelves, to keep track of inventory in real-time. Smart shelf apps have proliferated, offering store salespeople the ability to more quickly find products for customers or to identify products that need to be restocked. Whether or not the store is busy, being able to free employees of the obligation of constantly checking inventory allows the store to more effectively deploy its workforce to focus on other duties humans are better equipped to do, like care, support, and shop-floor guidance – all designed to improve the customer experience. 

Indeed, with global talent shortages at record highs, Gartner researchers called on retailers to hone a “total experience strategy” uniting customers and employees for a stronger “multi-experience” across digital interactions. IDC analysts said that by 2026, 90% of the top 2,000 retailers will employ edge computing to harness the explosion of data in stores for better workforce productivity and customer experience while reducing costs by 20%. 

Data is just data 

Data science, machine learning, and AI platforms are a clear win for retail: they can provide a platform for organizations to optimize four key pillars crucial to delivering a next-level retail experience – the ability to understand their customers, deliver an intelligent supply chain, empower employees and create a new retail model that focuses on the customer experience and includes the products and services their customers crave. With the right platform, retailers and brands can transform their business model and embark on the path to Enterprise AI to understand their customers and their businesses better, in order to deliver unique, differentiated, one-on-one experiences. 

At the heart of this – crucial to realizing the potential of doing more with the data that exists within the business – are the employees. Because, after all, without people to analyze, interpret and act, data is just data. 

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