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Could Data Be The Silver Bullet Retailers Need To Survive 2021?

Data is not a new concept for the retail industry

Photo by BBH Singapore on Unsplash

By Stu Garrow

Once upon a time, the January sales period would have seen Singapore shoppers hit the high street in droves to bag a bargain post-Christmas. Unfortunately, this year, the mass migration online as well as stricter local restrictions under our new three-tier system have left many high street retailers contemplating closure unless a solution can be found. According to the Retail Sales Index from the Singapore Department of Statistics (Singstat), retail sales fell 1.9% in November 2020 on a year-on-year basis, after an 8.5% decline in October. 

Of course, there is one ally that many have overlooked that could help retailers navigate this tough terrain. That really is data. Of course, data is not a new concept for the retail industry. However, until now, most have failed to take full advantage of the data that lives across their online and offline estate.

The retail challenges of Covid-19

As the pandemic rages on, weaknesses are beginning to appear in the recovery strategies that retailers are rolling out to weather this storm. A 2020 report shows that two in five consumers in Singapore (37%) have increased their online shopping activities, and 3-in-4 (76%) indicated that they will not return to the same levels of online shopping before the outbreak. The convenience and accessibility of products online converted off-line shoppers to online. 

To say survival depends solely on an online presence would be remiss. In fact, pre-covid, many traditional high street retailers already made the leap to eCommerce – rolling out websites with great desktop, mobile experiences and shoppable social media channels. Unfortunately, while these retailers may have built strong online touchpoints for consumers, failure to connect the two worlds of online and offline has led to missed sales opportunities – most prominently through siloed data on in and out-of-stock items. 

Supply chain agility is another area that has shown itself to be critical in recovery for high street retailers. Unfortunately, it was also a largely overlooked area pre-pandemic. Throughout the crisis we saw transient shifts in demand through the vast toilet roll shortages as well as more fundamental shifts like the boom in demand for bicycles. Retailers struggled to meet the radical shift in demand and changing consumer behaviour. Retailers not only need to resilient of shifting customer demand, but also unforeseen disruption to the supply, to ensure accurate stock levels and take advantage of dynamic pricing. For this, data is needed. 

Why data is the answer  

For too long the retail industry has neglected the need for a strong data-driven strategy – opting for business intelligence or, in other words, data-guided decision making. Yet, with reaching and maintaining customers a bigger challenge than ever before, data has suddenly become high street retailers’ unexpected ally. When embraced in the right ways, data-driven insights can provide retailers with a clear direction for business success, even during tough times.

Valuable data is hidden in places across a retailers’ entire organisation – online and off. 

Only when a retailer can paint a full picture with both data sets can they can begin to tackle the many challenges facing them. For example, real-time data on online browsing and in-store shopping patterns can help direct any changes needed to the supply chain and allow for dynamic pricing. 

Yet, in order for a data-driven strategy to reach its full potential, data must be trustworthy.  

The five T’s of trustworthy data 

Trusted data can be defined by five key criteria – thoroughness, transparency, timeliness, traceability and tested. 

If data is transparent, it is accessible and understandable by everyone, from boardroom to in-store. Meaning businesses avoid nasty delays to decision making as everyone is data literate 

Data must also be timely. During the toilet paper saga, the public’s attitude towards the pandemic changed daily with fear growing each day. If retailers are making decisions based on two-week old data then they would be vastly out of loop with customers’ shopping patterns. To ensure trust, decisions must be based on real-time data insights. 

To be trusted, data also needs to be thorough, including data from the whole organisation, with traceable sources, and tested, with collaborative feedback used to provide data ratings.

Given the sheer volumes of data now available, many retailers may think ensuring every piece is trustworthy is an impossible task. This is not the case, they too can achieve data clarity.   

The tools for trust

A successfully data-driven strategy should include a single platform that provides data trust from the outset – accounting for all the criteria outlined above. Through providing a single source of truth for all data, capturing and integrating data from millions of data points daily, retailers are able to make fast and accurate business decisions, giving them the edge they need to survive the pandemic. It should offer simple and easy to consume data ratings, that any business stakeholders can understand. 

As retailers brace themselves for another tough year, data is shaping up to be their most important ally. Yet, to truly make the most of it, retailers must find trust in their data by ensuring they have the right tools in place to offer reassurance across the business. Only once a retailer has embraced this will they really see the true value that data can bring in the face of new challenges. Luckily, this is achievable… today.

Stu Garrow is the SVP & GM APAC at Talend 

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