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NRF 2020: Data emerges as differentiator for next decade

By Retail Technology | Tuesday January 14 2020

Data was top of retail executives' agendas at this year's National Retail Federation's conference, 2020 Vision: Retail's Big Show, writes Retail Technology staff writer

The importance of collaboration through data-driven analytics and insight was a hot topic this year.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft chief executive, set the agenda with his keynote by focusing on the growing volumes of data being generated and the increasing velocity at which the insight it can drive is required.

Nadella pointed to the fact that retail as an industry produces some 40 terabytes per hour, which led him to ask, “What will we do with all that data?” It was also the question speakers and exhibitors looked to answer.

“You have the most valuable asset: consumer behaviour data,” he added, suggesting retailers should use it to develop new marketing capabilities. “This, to me, is perhaps what’s needed to reshape retail,” he said.

Taking a cue from Nadella, the focus of the event centred on data to support deeper understanding of customer needs; to empower employees to provide superior service; and for product development.

Knowing your customer

Becky Gebhardt, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of consumer-electronics accessory maker PopSockets, highlighted how important data has become to knowing the customer and innovation.

Gebhardt said that, in the absence of customer data-driven insight from retail partners, PopSockets developed “a nose for what’s happening, which led to a successful Baby Yoda product launch in time for last Christmas”.

Jeff Weiser, chief marketing officer at Shopify, stressed how important data quality and cleanliness was to deriving meaningful insight from customer activity, stock velocity and sales analysis.

“People overstate the analysis element with data and underestimate the plumbing,” said Weiser. “The data plumbing is just as important. Connecting the pipes can be harder than writing the algorithms.”

The focus on customer emerged as the strategic driver of most data analytics and insight development. As Helena Foulkes, Hudson's Bay Company chief executive, said: “The customer is most important.

“Now every meeting starts with the question, ‘what are you hearing from customers?’” Foulkes suggested that using data-driven insight should be used as a way of escalating customer demands up to senior management.

The importance of loyalty

US general merchandiser, Target, was on hand to underline the growing strategic importance of customer data by sharing some of the rapid results it has generated from the recent launch of a loyalty programme.

Rick Gomez, Target chief marketing and digital officer, said the retailer has amassed 50 million members of its Target Circle loyalty programme, which was launched in October 2019 after an 18-month beta programme.

He suggested previous multiple rewards schemes, including store card cashback, digital coupons and loyalty points, confused the customer. One said: “Sometimes it feels like I love Target more than Target loves me.”

The comments of Gomez confirmed the growing importance of loyalty for generating customer data-driven insight. But he added that any data collection initiatives must benefit the customer as much as the retailer.

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