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Retail Analytics & Business Insight 2015 conference highlights.

Javelin Group’s recent Retail Analytics & Business Insight 2015 conference welcomed 250 guests from over 170 companies to learn how consumer-facing organisations are dealing with the explosion of multiple data sources, and how leading practitioners are migrating away from a dependency on Excel and Access for data analytics and reporting within line of business towards a new breed of Business Intelligence (BI) tools.

Javelin Group’s director of Locations & Analytics, Robin Bevan, started the day by showing a LinkedIn study which revealed that ‘statistical analysis and data mining’ was the number 1 attribute ‘that got people hired in 2014’. Robin focussed on how the new generation of advanced analytics tools have wide application across the retail enterprise, replacing specialist systems across all functional areas of retail including:

  • Finance & HR (e.g. automated weekly / monthly KPI reports, store sales and profit modelling, discount control, colleague performance rankings, creating a ‘single view of the truth’…)
  • Customer insight & marketing (e.g. customer segmentation, single customer view, local marketing hot-spotting, post campaign ROI analysis, market penetration analysis, social media analytics, RFM analytics, ‘next best action’ planning…)
  • Buying & merchandising (e.g. detailed flow replenishment reporting, range, category and SKU-level analytics, stock availability reporting, space optimisation, price optimisation, markdown decision support, local merchandising…)
  • Operations (e.g. advanced drivetime analytics to inform logistics, optimised salesforce boundaries and fieldforce activities, POS analytics, inventory planning, call routing, warehouse applications, KPI dashboards…)
  • eCommerce & multi-channel (e.g. merge online and offline performance KPIs, blend Google analytics with external data, AB Testing, marketing campaign attribution, web content personalisation, product recommendations, KPI dashboards…)
  • Location planning & property (e.g. catchment analysis, sales forecasting, impact analysis, property management dashboards, store clustering, ‘Car park’ reports, automated ‘Valuations Office’ reporting…)

The main focus of the day was to hear practical case studies from several valued Javelin Group clients:

  • Carpetright’s director of corporate finance, Patrick Stirling-Howe, showed how this sector leader has evolved from property decisions based on gut feel and experience to an automated investment appraisal process which ‘holds a mirror’ up to the business. The spread of analytics tools which began life as decision support in the Property department through to Finance, HR, Operations and International has helped the business to reduce fixed costs and increase profitability. Regular management reporting processes that used to take up many hours every week are now automated to run in seconds. In one specific example, financial discount reporting has been cut from 9 hours to just 10 seconds.
  • Claire Craigie, Business Systems Manager at Steinhoff International (the world’s second largest specialist furniture retailer which trades in the UK as Bensons for Beds, Harveys Furniture and Cargo), has seen her role evolve dramatically from the property management function she specialised in originally to a business-wide analytic support. ‘These tools can do anything’ was Claire’s key message – pointing to a number of examples ranging from property to customer insight to range analytics. Property management dashboards which give senior managers instant access to all lease and property KPI data was a stand-out example. Claire has become the focal point in the business for a surge in analytic requests from all corners.
  • Douglas Scott-Christie, visualisation analyst at BSkyB, confirmed that ‘analytics is the lifeblood’ of the business. The recent adoption of Alteryx to help blend data from disparate sources across the business and the data visualisation tool, Tableau, has quickly delivered far richer insight to key stakeholders at BSkyB than was previously possible. The challenge of data silos and a lack of standardisation in data structure and outputs is fast being addressed under ‘Project Matrix’.
  • Director of international development at Mothercare, Sohail Shaikh, leads Mothercare’s fast-growth international business line. Sohail is at the start of Mothercare’s journey using Alteryx and Tableau, and highlighted the challenges of addressing the needs of a complex business currently using a variety of systems across multiple countries trading in different time zones and fluctuating currency exchange rates. The new tools will initially be targeted at creating a common ‘view of the truth’ across borders in terms of sales and financial KPIs. At next year’s conference we look forward to reporting back on how successfully the current international data challenges described by Sohail have been successfully addressed using our advanced analytics and data visualisation techniques.
  • Kim Gray, head of retail strategy at Heathrow Airport, highlighted the critical importance of retail and foodservice revenues to the airport business model. He focussed on the extremely fast return he has delivered to the business by adopting new generation analytics tools. Analysis is now far quicker and much more accurate with the tools used initially to generate KPI reporting for commercial activities across the terminals (sales, income, productivity etc.) – reducing the time needed to produce monthly reports down from one week to 3.2 second. Heathrow is now converting its successful process of category and future space planning into a smooth analytic workflow using Alteryx and Tableau.

Our keynote speaker, Alan Smith OBE, head of digital content at the Office for National Statistics, showed how his career has focussed on bringing data to life through beautiful and thought-provoking visualisations. His theme of ‘Visual. Personal. Social’ was highlighted by an interactive ‘personal dialect map’ published on the New York Times website in December 2013 to show how dialects change across the US, and where the user would feel most at home. In a year of major news stories (e.g. the Boston bombing), this one article that was live for less than one week in the year nevertheless got more hits than anything else published on the site in the entire year.

We also heard from two of our strongest technology partners in the retail analytics space:

  • Dean Stoecker is CEO and founder of Alteryx, the visionary advanced analytics platform that tops the 2015 Gartner Magic Quadrant in Advanced Analytics due to its unique combination of ease of use relative to the complexity of analysis that it supports. Dean brought us a view from the US, and introduced us to the ‘5 Articles of Analytics Independence’:
    1. The moat: Successful retail brands create a culture for using data and advanced analytics that advance the brand with USPs that improve customer experience, resulting in greater customer spend.
    2. The market: Appropriate analytics around property, portfolio, loyalty and customer behaviour are prerequisites for leading retail brands that need to drive value for shareholders.
    3. The measures: Successful retailers understand the analytic measures that drive top line growth and bottom line results, and utilise technologies that allow line-of-business analysts to evaluate programme (e.g. pricing policy, sales forecasting) performance efficiently and make necessary adjustments quickly.
    4. The metaphors: The most successful ‘analytically focused’ brands depend on employee engagement with the analytic measures that can affect change, and this is best achieved by communicated the measures in the most visually compelling way.
    5. The model: Moving more capabilities into fewer tools, and putting them closer to the line of business has proven to be a time tested analytical model for the world’s most successful brands.

Dean ended by calling out corporate culture as the biggest ongoing challenge to achieving this vision.

  • Tableau Software tops the 2015 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence through its innovative approach to visual analytics, and is one of the world’s fastest growing software companies. We were joined by James Eiloart, VP for EMEA, who highlighted the surge in data with 90% of all data created since the dawn of mankind being generated in the last 12 months. The need to develop tools which mimic our psychological propensity for visual pattern recognition through the use of colours, size and shape to provide context to data is at the heart of Tableau’s vision.

Javelin Group’s CEO, Tony Stockil, brought the day to a close with a challenge; retailers are ‘data generation machines’ in an era of digital transformation. The challenge around achieving ‘distributed data insight’ – through infrastructure, organisation, culture and analytics vision – at a time of unparalleled channel shift and growing business complexity will be the key battleground that determines success or failure in the new retail era.

Over the coming year, our own Retail Analytics & Business Insight team will be working with retailers, brands, travel operators and shopping centre developers to deliver BI tools and analytics to empower their business users, and we look forward to reporting back to the industry this time next year on how we and our clients are continuing to respond as we truly enter the analytics age.

FIND OUT MORE about Javelin Group’s Business Intelligence Software service line.