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A Merchandiser's Introduction to Big Data; And Why You Should Care...

As a Field Merchandiser (and/or Field Sales Professional) you may or may not have an exposure to (and an opportunity to be involved with) "Data." Data, sometimes called Big Data, has been talked about for several years now. Operations both large and small have been using data to help manage their businesses. But how does data actually improve your supply chain management?

The short answer is inventory tracking. However, data does more than inform you as to where a shipment is in the supply chain. We're talking inventory tracking on steroids! But you may be asking yourself, "Why should I care?"

A Merchandiser's Introduction to Big Data; And Why You Should Care...

Why Even Care About This?

Your ultimate job is to increase retailer traffic, increase retailer basket size, and increase retailer margin. The better you become at succeeding at those three goals, the better your company will get and the better opportunities you'll get for promotions, pay-raises, and the attainment of your financial goals and dreams.

But if you're not helping retailers to sell products, then you're also not helping manufacturers to sell products -- and you will not be very valuable to the industry.

So, data is all about helping retailers to sell more stuff. And if you work for a manufacturer, that's fine too -- because remember the retailer is your customer and you want your customer to be successful right? And MSO's often work for either or both. So learn data to become more valuable to all you serve.

From source to shelf to cart

Data actually helps retailers, MSOs, and manufacturers understand the entire progression of a single item – from its origin to its purchase. You know when, where, how, and (in some cases) why an item is bought. You also know how long it takes to go from being packaged and shipped to being carted away by your customers.

On the back end, data picked up by shelf or product scans provide retailers and supply chain vendors with real-time snapshots into how products move through the chain. Retailers can often record the movement of every piece of merchandise from source to shelf. For example, as soon as an item is delivered from a source or fulfillment center, retailers capture its presence in their stores.

However, the above is an ideal. Often times retailers have no idea which products YOU just put on the shelf -- or if those products were out of stock when you got there. Knowing this information would be extremely helpful but is often sadly lost. So the FIRST thing I want to tell you about how YOU can make a difference is to COMMUNICATE with CLARITY directly to the store management. Right there, right then -- there is no need for BIG DATA, just a short conversation about what you found when you got to the store, what you did about it, and any suggestions you may have that would help the retailer achieve the three goals above (and specifically concerning YOUR products.)

Now, to the extent you can capture and memorialize this information in your mobile workforce task management system -- the better. Finding and contributing to big data helps people across the supply chain make better decisions which leads to success all around. So if you're in a position to capture data -- capture it. If somebody wants the data later...at least you captured it. And if you're in a position to have influence on the supply chain, argue that your retail merchandising data can have a positive impact on the supply chain and attempt to strike partnerships to share data.

For retailers, data can provide information in real time, such as

  • current stock levels/location of available inventory
  • shipping/receiving and stock-taking data
  • product sales
  • item information requests from customers and employees,
  • proof of delivery

Within the supply chain, mobile data capture technology provides date of origin, shipping info, and storage location, to name a few data points. Decision makers obtain data on products as they depart and arrive at loading docks, are placed in warehouse bins or onto store shelves, and scanned for purchase or buying interest.

On the front end, point-of-sale systems and barcode scans provide the supply chain with valuable insights into shopping behavior. Decision makers can analyze sales data to determine exactly how all the items in store are selling, and adjust purchasing levels accordingly. They can also improve pricing accuracy with integrated barcode scanners and credit card authorization data available in a POS system.

You want to improve the shopping experience for your customers. Product data helps shoppers buy more efficiently and effectively. Consumers can create shopping lists using apps that import product data into their shopping apps. Instead of populating their lists with generic product terms, they’re able to define exactly which brand or SKU or even expiration date they want.

Know thy customer

The future of customer relationships is appearing before our eyes because of better data analytics. Think of those movie trailers where it starts, “In a world where….” and you’ve got the future of retailing. By having data drive business decisions, you’re able to identify customers and tailor (“personalize”) their shopping experiences to past behaviors. If shoppers like a certain brand of baby food, for instance, your supply chain will be notified through a predictive analytics program that will automatically reorder that brand based upon typical purchasing patterns.

Demandware president and CEO Tom Ebling said that, “The future is going to be so personalized, you’ll know the customer as well as they know themselves.” Scary but undoubtedly true.

By applying predictive analytics to how inventory moves from source to end consumer, you become better equipped to put the right product in the right store or fulfillment center at the right time for the right customer to purchase.

Improve customer loyalty

The last point here is that data gives the supply chain an opportunity to bolster customer loyalty with precision we’ve never seen before. How effective has your company been at developing customer profiles that help it manage inventory? Without data, it’s probably challenging.

Customer relationship management programs have improved the ability to connect sales data with customer behaviors and personal traits. For example, retailers can compare which products a consumer investigates to which ones he actually buys. And the foregoing data can now be available on field mobile devices (at least the technology is there -- whether you can convince your partners to share it is another matter.)

But you should, because this provides a better, deeper understanding of individual consumer preferences, giving you an opportunity to improve loyalty programs around products that shoppers decide they want.

Now is NOT the time to rest...

The coming wave called the Internet of Things is expected to change the way shoppers purchase consumable goods. In a world where a device “talks” to your refrigerator, you’ll need data to compete. Connected in-home devices like Amazon’s Echo or Google Home will be able to automatically create shopping lists using data provided directly by appliances and order products without people having to lift a finger. That means you’ll need strong data capture systems in order to compete for shoppers in the home of the future. 

If you don't want to get left behind, you'd better get behind the idea that you need to get in front of data -- and the more the better.

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Topics: big data collection