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Retail: The power of data in a time of crisis

April 24, 2020

Today’s health emergency has been described by some government leaders and health officials as a battle. If that’s the case, then retailers are among those on the proverbial front line, serving people the products and services they need to stay healthy, safe and comfortable. But in an environment that is wholly new and without comparison, many retail organizations are struggling to figure out what, exactly, consumers need.

In this rapidly evolving landscape, retailers need access to real-time data that not only reveals what is happening in the moment but can also help predict what may occur in the future. By reviewing recent digital activity, such as social media posts, ratings and reviews, call center requests and searches, retailers can get a sense what consumers are doing and feeling in this time of unprecedented disruption. More importantly, this data, when coupled with advanced analytics capabilities, can help companies detect minute shifts in behavior and sentiment, allowing them to adjust operations to better serve the customer.

For example, several weeks ago, brick-and-mortar stores across North America experienced stock-outs of household goods and food items. Days later, as people hesitated to leave their homes, interest in delivery peaked. In both cases, demand far outpaced supply, which meant that retailers were unable to meet the needs of some of their customers.

The power of data and analytics is not in reporting these events but in anticipating them—and, by extension, responding to them. Retailers that recognized a shift toward stockpiling could have increased stock or even imposed purchase limits. In the days that followed, with the advent of social distancing, these same retailers could have shifted resources from the store to the streets, increasing delivery services. Our recent Smart Retail Planner Overview and Digital Supply Chain report explain how organizations can use data to adjust their supply-side operations to address market changes, identify risks and neutralize threats.

Building resiliency and agility to address future challenges

This rapidly changing landscape begs the question: What’s next? Our latest data reveals that people are eager to return to normalcy, which means that when they decide to leave their homes, they expect businesses to be ready to serve them. When will that be? How should retailers adjust stock? What implications does it have for staff? What modifications need to be made in stores to make people feel safe and comfortable?

With so many questions percolating, it is important for retailers to focus on facts. For example, our People Data Centre (PDC), developed and launched in conjunction with Unilever, is a social and business analytics tool that provides real-time, data-driven insights about consumer sentiment and behavior. PDC gathers millions of data points globally to help brands to understand meta trends triggered by this health emergency. Our tool then applies these insights within the context of an individual brand, category or product, helping marketers to provide more relevant products, services and communications to their consumers.

Our work with Unilever in creating the PDC is built on years of research and experience within the retail and CP sectors. We invite you to connect with us in the comments section to learn more about how your business can harness the power of data to address the issues of today and anticipate the challenges of tomorrow.