Five Big Data Trends Revolutionizing Retail

More retailers are finding that Big Data can revitalize an industry challenged by a slow economy, increasingly empowered consumers, mobile proliferation and an ever-growing number of channels.
Written by Andrew Brust, Contributor

This guest post is from Kelly Kennedy, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Sales at Infogroup Targeting Solutions, where she supports large enterprise clients with a wealth of industry experience across both B2C and B2B solutions.  


By Kelly Kennedy

It’s Moore’s law of marketing: The aggregate amount of data available to retailers doubles every two years. Acquiring the insights that retailers need to find, target and retain their ideal customers used to be a problem. Now, marketers are tasked with sifting through the enormous amount of data they have on hand. Big Data is just that, and the sheer amount makes it difficult not only to discern what’s valuable, but to discover what information might be missing or lost in the shuffle.

The retail industry may have turned a corner. In a recent interview, Karem Tomak, vice president of analytics for Macys.com, admitted that just three years ago the department store relied on Excel spreadsheets to house and make sense of customer data. Now the retail giant is crediting Big Data and analytics with a double-digit percentage increase in revenue.

More retailers are finding that Big Data has the potential to revitalize an industry being challenged by a slow economy, increasingly empowered consumers, mobile proliferation and an ever-growing number of channels. Although Big Data is having profound impacts on retail and marketing strategy, it’s important for brands to use these trends as building blocks for a greater process flow overhaul. Without the proper technology, internal knowledge and best practices in place, it’s difficult to maximize Big Data’s potential benefits.

Five ways Big Data is revolutionizing retail marketing

1. Growing, cross-channel data volumes

The rise of mobile, tablets and social media has accelerated the growth of available customer data. A typical retailer knows not only the basic demographic information about a customer, but purchase history, call center interaction, mobile/social interaction, supply chain data and more. The sheer volume of information available to retailers is unprecedented, even for brands that have years of experience analyzing customer data.

2. Increasing investment in technology

You’d be hard-pressed to walk into a Best Buy right now and find a hard drive that stores less than a terabyte. Storage is so cheap that it’s leveling the playing field for many companies when it comes to Big Data. Retail leaders have started investing in centralized databases and focusing on data hygiene and analytics, giving them insight into their customers that wasn't possible even a few years ago.

In 2013, retailers will spend nearly $2 billion on business intelligence and $9.4 billion on infrastructure. For Macy’s, the investment has paid off: Tomak, the executive who modernized Macy’s data processes, attributes a 10 percent increase in store sales to improved analytics capabilities.

3. Solving the omnichannel puzzle with data

Retailers with a data-centric mindset are crunching an incredible amount of customer behavior data to understand how customers are researching and buying products. Insights reached through analyzing transaction data, foot traffic and in-store checkout wait times have led to shifts in marketing strategies and in-store tactics. In response, retailers have introduced in-store kiosks, free Wi-Fi, and armed their sales staff with mobile devices that allow them to better serve Web-savvy customers on the spot.

Similarly, marketers shouldn’t ignore one channel at the expense of the other. In fact, Walgreens found that customers who shop both in-store and online spend 3.5 times as much as customers who favor only one channel.

4. Improving personalization

Big Data gives retailers the unique opportunity to mirror the shopkeeper of yore, adapting communication and sales techniques to life events and preferences. Research cited on the Harvard Business Review blog found that personalization can deliver five to eight times the ROI on marketing investment and boost sales 10 percent. Consumers are fine with sharing personal details so long as it earns them something.

Technology will further enhance the consumer experience as Next Best Offer (NBO) technology becomes reality. NBO represents the convergence of real-time data analysis and mobile offers. By reaching consumers at the right time, in the right place, through the right channel, NBO provides personalization on steroids and is the future of the industry.

5. Segmenting the most valuable customers

Harnessing Big Data is a massive undertaking, but the payoff lies in finding the most profitable customers. Prioritizing these high-value customers is essential to success, especially considering that it costs more to acquire new customers than to keep the best customers. Improvements in data-crunching abilities allow retailers to analyze the behavior and needs that drive individual customers, which results in more relevant and targeted offers.

A recent study by Aberdeen Group found that 59 percent of retailers identified a lack of consumer insights as their top data-related pain point. Yet retailers have more customer data than ever. For brands competing in an industry with slim margins, harnessing the right data and smart analysis will lead to better engagement, more loyal customers and a competitive advantage.

Maximizing Big Data’s potential

Retailers that are taking advantage of Big Data’s potential are reaping the rewards.  They’re able to use data to effectively reach consumers through the correct channels and with messages that resonate to a highly targeted audience.  Although there are obvious benefits, many retailers are surprisingly still failing to act on these trends. This delay is largely due to a dependence on siloed information, lack of executive involvement and a general trend among marketers to fail to understand analytics. Without advancing internal structures, gaining executive support or educating internally, jumping on these Big Data trends is nearly impossible.

Big Data can be overwhelming, and it’s important that retailers understand what their current systems can handle. For data to produce results, retailers need to integrate technology to ensure that they are gaining insights they can quickly act upon. Once internal resources are up to date – including both human knowledge and technology assets – Big Data possibilities are limitless.

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