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August 17, 2018

Using Data to Dodge the High-Street Grim Reaper

It appears that, as ever, the devil is in the detail, and retailers can learn a lot about their organisation from their own data

By CBR Staff Writer

High street retailers are facing an increasingly hostile environment due to rising costs, competition from ecommerce businesses and changing customer expectations.

This perfect storm has led to several high street names going into administration. Recent examples of those finding themselves in trouble include House of Fraser, Maplin’s and Poundworld.

Mark Hinds, CEO of Polymatica

Despite these failures, other retailers are going from strength to strength – in particular Primark, Lush and Poundland.

Yet why do some high street businesses succeed where others fail?

This is hard to understand, especially when we consider that Poundland and Poundworld have virtually the same businesses model, but have experienced markedly different results.

It appears that, as ever, the devil is in the detail, and retailers can learn a lot about their organisation from their own data. As such, here are the three key points around data that retailers should be taking advantage of to ensure they flourish in a challenging environment.

Taking stock of resources

Retailers must make better use of all the resources they have available. Company and customer data, which are some of the most valuable assets that businesses have, are frequently not used to their full potential simply because  they’re hidden across disparate systems.

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In other cases, retailers can suffer from “data blindness”, which means they have so much data, that they simply don’t know how to use it effectively. With this in mind, there are three key questions that retailers should ask themselves about the data they have.

Do I know what data I have available – am I getting data from all parts of my business or is something missing?

Do I have easy access to data – is it in a common and easily retrievable format?

What do I want to learn from my data – do I have a clear goal in mind?

With data being so valuable, it’s vital retailers know what they have and what they want to learn, otherwise it’s unlikely they will be able to gain any valuable insight from it.

Using the data crystal ball

Knowing what data the business has is one thing, but knowing how much of it to use is another. The truth is many retailers are only using a very small selection of the data they have available.

In a retail environment, sales data from EPOS systems frequently gets all the attention. The problem is that this shows nothing other than the movement of stock. If a business utilises all its data, it can do so much more than review sales and stock levels.

With an holistic approach to data analysis, retailers are able to essentially do the equivalent of polling customers every 5 minutes on a diverse range of subjects without ever asking them a single question.

This allows them to learn about new trends quicker, as well as the different customer motivations and potential long-term roadblocks.

This can allow retailers to go from being reactive to proactive, and even predictive, shaping customers’ shopping journeys to be more profitable for the business. It’s vital that businesses know what they want to learn from their data in order for them to benefit from it.

Achieving retail success

If an organisation knows what data it has and understands what it wants to learn, the final piece of the puzzle is having people who can use the data. In the past this was the reserve of qualified data scientists who spent huge amounts of time interpreting data and slowly feeding into business decisions.

However, today, with the right platform and a little training, data can be used by all business departments. This means that data can help shape new product strategies, reorganise stores and staff, and even change supply chains to better suit business requirements.

Clearly the retail environment is crowded, and businesses are struggling to keep up with customer demands and other external pressures, especially on the high street. However, becoming the next Poundworld is not inevitable.

There are steps that many can take to help boost profits and lower costs. To achieve this, retailers must make use of resources that are available.

Data is probably the best place to start due to the amount of insight that can be gained from it. Retailers must start to look inward to their data and start making smarter choices now before it’s too late.

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