Focus On: Business Intelligence

Store managers harness big data with mobile apps

The retail industry arguably collects more data than other business segments, and this volume doubles every 18 months, making the prospect of “big data” very real. By adopting mobile business intelligence apps, retailers are harnessing this robust data set and putting decision-making in the hands of its front line of defense — store-level associates.

Defining big data simply as large data volumes is an understatement. Big data is the result of information garnered from a variety of diverse sources, including transaction data, loyalty programs, even emerging sources, including consumer mobile transactions and social media interactions.

Indeed, as a recent study points out, retailers are increasing their strategic vision regarding customer insights. Customer retention was the top initiative among 68% of respondents, with 55% of retailers using analytics to delve into customer data mining, new customer acquisition and segmentation, specifically, according to “Retail Horizons, Benchmarks for 2011, Forecasts for 2012,” published by the National Retail Federation, Washington, D.C., and KPMG.

“Retailers without an active BI initiative won’t be around very long,” said Orlando “Butch” Jagoda, VP, IT, Helzberg Diamonds, Kansas City, Mo.

Jagoda said retail is a tough business, one that gives customers endless choices of where and how to buy merchandise — all factors pushing the envelope for retailers trying to manage big data. As a result, these robust data sets need equally robust analytics engines.

“Historically, data was transactional, and retailers used BI to understand trends,” Jagoda added. “As data sets and expectations increase, we need to add infrastructure that models and correlates endless data streams to help chains make decisions.”

While BI operations are often conducted at corporate offices, retailers’ front line staffers and store managers still need access to timely information to ensure they can best service the consumer when they enter the store. By adding mobility to the mix, retailers are giving store associates more selling power than ever before.

As more associates adopt mobile devices (smartphones, tablet computers, etc.) to improve the store-level shopping experience, chains have a new way to deliver reporting tools right to store associates’ fingertips. Armed with mobile BI apps, store managers can receive messages from the corporate-exception reporting tool, alerting them to fast- or slow-moving merchandise, allowing them to fine-tune assortments and displays on the fly.

BI is deeply rooted in Helzberg Diamonds’ DNA, and mobile is playing a stronger role. “Internally, mobile makes it easier for associates who travel, our store managers and all associates who need to be connected with business statistics,” Jagoda said. The goal: “to take the ‘dashboard’ to a form factor that’s easy for those who travel to get the same information,” he added.