It’s the age of data in the world of retail. The modern customer journey includes so many touchpoints, each of which generates more data for the retailer. But, more data does not necessarily equate with better intelligence. In fact, many retailers are finding it harder than ever to piece together the information they’re getting from so many disparate sources to glean a clear, unified view of the customer and of the business. Many retailers still look at POS and e-commerce data separately and therefore are blind to the bigger picture of customer buying behavior. One recent study found that as much as 80% of data is “dark and untouched,” which means that it sits there, never actually used in any beneficial way. What was once relatively simple has become incredibly complex, and retailers need powerful analytics tools that deliver actionable insights – now more than ever.

Have you decided that it’s time to upgrade your current reporting or analytics toolset? Perhaps you’re not quite sure if the time is right, but you’re starting to research your options? While there is no one size fits all answer for analytics today, there IS a right solution for your business. Finding your best match can be a big undertaking, but it’s essential to take the time and put the energy towards finding your best match. Choosing the wrong analytics solution for your business can mean years of lost productivity due to added workload, and missed opportunities and insights that could lead to disastrous financial consequences. Here’s how to ensure that you pick the perfect solution that will meet your business’ unique needs.

Involve ALL of the Right People

In the world of retail, some level of reporting is used by just about every level and function of the organization. From the CFO to the store manager, and from the merchant team to loss prevention, everybody needs data to ensure that they’re on the right track. If you dig a little, you’ll probably find three things:

  • Each of these users has reports/dashboards that they live by. They look at them first thing in the morning and initiate actions based on what they see in the report.
  • They also have plenty of reports delivered to them that they do not
  • Finally, they have a wishlist of reports, dashboards, visualizations that they would love to have but haven’t wanted to burden IT with the request, or don’t know how to create, or can’t currently create with the current reporting too.

All of these different stakeholders need to have a voice on your evaluation committee because they each have unique needs.

Analyze Your Needs

Once you’ve determined the right people to involve in your cross-functional evaluation committee, then it’s time to analyze their needs. Their pain points are likely to bubble to the surface pretty quickly: what drives them nuts about the current situation? What do they find to be a waste of time? Is IT spending all of their time coding custom reports? Are you wasting too much paper printing out weekly batches? Examine and prioritize these pain points to better understand where you’re coming from and where you need to go. Some of these pain points might be significant – like an inability to see the enterprise, including e-commerce, retail, and franchise stores, as a whole. Other pain points, like frustrations with the user experience, may seem minor but are still worth noting because they can impact productivity and adoption. If users hate working with the system, they’re more likely to get busy elsewhere and find good excuses to avoid it.

Consider micro- and macro-goals. Micro-goals might include needed to add a particular column to a report, or being able to drill-down in a graph. Macro-goals are the larger organizational objectives that each of these micro-goals contributes to. Macro-goals might include a better customer experience through personalization, enhanced decision-making from a clearer unified view of the enterprise or improved productivity through the elimination of duplicate and manual processes.

What’s critical for one retailer might be unimportant to another, and that’s okay! Whereas a library of built-in retail dashboards may be a top priority for some retailers, having extensive ad-hoc report building capabilities may be number one for others.

Don’t forget about security: in a retail organization, there are so many different players with various needs for data consumption. You may not want a store to see other stores’ performance. Perhaps franchised stores should not see corporate stores’ numbers. You may want to hide product margins from store managers. While it’s easy to get wrapped up in evaluating functional needs, it’s important to spend the time to consider security needs as well.

Evaluate the Partner – Not Just the Tool

Now that you have a better understanding of your needs, you’re ready to embark on your search. While it’s critical to find a tool that will align with your functional requirements, you also want to evaluate the potential partnership as you begin to speak with vendors. Even the most user-friendly tool will still require you to interact with the vendor at times: for training, support, or perhaps even for best practice advice.

The retail industry has so many intricacies to navigate, so selecting an analytics partner with extensive retail experience is important. Have they worked with other retailers like you? Do they have experience with other retailers whose business is a similar size, in the same vertical, and with the same business model? It’s wise to speak with other retailers who are using the system: what benefits are they reaping from its use? Is the vendor responsive to support calls? Are they easy to work with?  You can also use industry publications like the RIS Leaderboard to assist with this research.

Keep the End Goal in Sight

Forrester reports that while 74 percent of organizations say they want to be data-driven, only 29 percent are actually successful at connecting analytics to action. Keep the end goal in sight: colorful reports are fun, but are they actually delivering the actionable insights you need to work towards your larger business objectives? What’s most important to you as a business? Is it growing your customer base, retaining more loyal customers, improving profit margins? Keep these goals in mind as you move through the analytics evaluation process.

Don’t get distracted by bells and whistles. It can be easy to get swept away with fun features and visualization capabilities, but at the end of the day, what really matters is what will help you move the needle and grow your business. There will always be “shiny new things” in the world of technology, but you need to be able to look past the sales pitch to evaluate what the product will really do in the context of your unique business. For example, can you manipulate the data in meaningful ways? Can you drill down? Can you roll up? How easily can you customize the tool? For instance, can you change the labels in a report to match the language of your business? Plan for the future, but do it in pencil. Consider your future needs for integration, scaling, and customization as you evaluate analytics solutions.

Related Resources

Retail Analytics Solution Guide
The Ultimate Guide to Selecting and Implementing a Retail Analytics Solution
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Webinar: Using Data to Innovate and Shape the Shopping Journey
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How Analytics can Improve the Omni-Channel Customer Experience
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Webinar: How to Convert Customer Data into Profits with Retail Analytics
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