New York City, January 2020: I sat in a packed session at NRF 2020 waiting to hear the CEO of Microsoft start the day with a keynote.
Just a minute into his address, Satya Nadella made a powerful statement:
“The fact that there is 40 petabytes of data that is generated every hour in retail is what, in some sense, is shaping the entire economy. This data is the demand signal for the world. And the question is: what is it that we are going to do collectively as an economy; as a society? What is it that you, as retailers, are going to be able to do with this data? And that’s I think perhaps going to shape not only retail, but all of the economy going forward.” – Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft
Across every industry, defining and defending a brand’s competitive future depends upon the company’s ability to leverage data, and quickly. Retail is no exception.
But today’s global retailers face a complicated challenge: data translation.
The word “translate” comes from the Latin word that means “carried across” or “to carry over.”
Retail has focused in recent years on leveraging their data to improve customer experience, retention, and revenue. As the data demands on retail continue to increase, retailers will need to “translate” or “carry across” more data within their enterprise.
Retailers need to bring data together and translate it for unification across their enterprise to generate insights. But unifying data is not simply about bringing it together all in one place (e.g. moving all of it into a data lake).
Rather, to really unify data is “to make whole”, so it can be utilized, explored, analyzed, and acted upon at the pace of a consumer’s expectations—and it goes beyond point of sale (POS) data in-store and/or online, to now include mobile engagement, promotion, marketing, inventory, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and financial forecasting data.
In an always-on, omnichannel world, this might mean using unified data to:
- Analyzing the contribution each channel delivers to the company’s revenue and profit
- predict how a consumer’s purchase history will influence future shopping decisions and buying patterns;
- diagnose the reasons behind abandoned online shopping carts;
- prescribe personalized messages in order to compel a buyer to complete a stalled purchase; or
- target and deliver to consumers in different geographic regions the marketing messages most relevant to them.
Retailers won’t find these suggestions to be a foreign concept—they recognize the power Satya referred to regarding their data assets. But often it’s very difficult to generate new meaning and new insights if you have to build an entirely new retailer “language”—if you’re a retailer that requires a different data “translator” for every data source. It is also challenging to do so with speed and accuracy.
Only by truly unifying data can it illuminate high-value insights that can be shared across the retail organization—from supply chain, consumer insight, revenue management, merchandising, assortment, and category management to pricing, promotion, and marketing.
And only by truly unifying data will retailers be able to create entirely new, curiosity-driven insights from their data, empower employees to ask questions, and foster those same employees’ curiosity.
Now, for the good news.
It’s not as difficult as you might think to embrace this new definition of data unification, and become able to look across all aspects of your retail business and make a strong pivot to succeed.
My company Incorta, for example, changes the way data is “carried over” across the retail enterprise.
Our data translation doesn’t rely upon multiple, complex, and often-fragile legacy data “ambassadors” (think ETL, data warehouses, data marts). Rather, Incorta’s Unified Data and Analytics Platform (UDAP) rapidly connects to data, maintains data’s fidelity from source through to insight, and provides a single platform for joining all and any data from any source.
All of this matters because Incorta’s near-instantaneous data translation lets any retail department in the retail organization immediately answer their own questions by directly accessing, analyzing, and visualizing data that’s no longer siloed—from consumer insight and shopper marketing, to merchandising and inventory management.
Only when we empower employees and business leaders to ask the hard, curious questions about their customers, their supply chains, and their futures—e.g., “how can we apply artificial intelligence/AI or machine learning/ML to our data,” “how can we move beyond descriptive analytics, to analytics that are prescriptive?”—will we be able to leverage our “unified translation.”
And only then can we reimagine retail.
Incorta has partnered with Microsoft to deliver solutions that reimagine retail and enable intelligent supply chains for some of the world’s most recognized brands. Our new ebook is designed to help retailers better navigate the unfamiliar, troubled waters in which we all find ourselves.
In the coming weeks, eCapital Advisors’ Retail Lead Connie Walsh and I will share free strategies and thought starters for brands that find themselves in that mix. Together, we’ll explain exactly how unifying data and analytics can help brands pivot more quickly and easily, increase their margins, and foster more intelligent supply chains. Connie’s spent more than 25 years building results-oriented and forward-thinking solutions for retailers and brands, and I’m thrilled to have her join me for this conversation. We hope you’ll join the conversation!