COVID-19 | Using Data to ride out the retail apocalypse.

Apr 14, 2020 | in Data Strategy Retail
3 mins read


With all the focus around COVID-19, it’s easy to have missed the news that Debenhams has gone under - again. Administrators have been called in for Debenhams for the second time in 12 months.

The high street has been in a dire strait since at least 2010. There’s a sense of high street stalwarts falling like withered leaves from an autumnal tree. The chaos of the Coronavirus will only accelerate this trend.

However we emerge from the shadow of COVID-19, consumer tastes and habits are likely to have been hugely affected.

So what’s a trusty bricks and mortar operator to do?

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but rather, that which is most adaptable to change.

Lean in with Data

This isn’t the time to hunker down but to double down on change. That means embracing the crisis as an opportunity for change.

Retailers need to focus on the customer journey and be able to optimise the key (ideally all!) aspects of it - all the time. There's no end-state to continuous improvement. From one-day shipping allowing customers to order online and pick up in the store through to optimising merchandising and inventory planning.

Getting there means being able to effectively harness, manage and exploit data. Data is usually being used inefficiently, incompletely or in an impractical manner. That means retailers are missing out on the huge potential that data contains for growing revenue and pruning costs.

We suggest the following steps to get going.

1.     Create a data strategy

A data strategy acts as a true north for using data investment to effect improvements to the business. That means doing the right things, in the right way and in the right order. In short a cogent data strategy will align the use of data with the actual needs of the business. And outcomes are measured in terms of quantifiable top or bottom line benefits.

Coming together to acknowledge that there should even be a data strategy (!), and then collaboratively agreeing on one is a significant achievement. Moving ahead to execute on that shared vision will be game changing.

And the implementation has to be lean. Multi-year transformation programmes belong to a bygone era. Successful change in 2020 and beyond will be rapid, incremental and relentlessly value-driven.

2.     Create value through simplification

All retailers are under huge pressure to find savings. However cost cutting alone is like bailing water in a boat that’s breached below the waterline. The need of the hour is growth and profitability.

That means getting an accurate and timely view of key metrics such as CLV, NPS and churn. Timely, today, is about responding in as near real-time a manner as possible.

Using numerous, overlapping data silos creates risk as well as inefficiencies. They need to go. Just having them around will constrain the way an organisation thinks and operates.

To achieve true customer-centricity, retailers need to have their bricks & mortar and online channels working from the same view of the customer. That entails bringing together PoS, Finance, Customer and Digital Marketing data into a single, trusted and conformed truth. The benefits will range from higher value insights, better automation to faster decision making.

Achieving this kind of data nirvana is very much a journey rather than an event. Map out an approach that makes sense, set deadlines and get delivering ... 

3.     Data-driven culture.

We often hear about the need or benefits of becoming ‘data-driven’. What does that actually mean?

Key stakeholders, from the store level through to merchandising operations, already know what they want from data. Their frustrations often stem from their lack of ability to access it in the speed or form that’s needed.

At other times, the discipline of becoming data-driven needs to be nurtured by requiring that quantifiable metrics are brought into key conversations and business processes.

In either case, giving easy access to relevant data in a self-service manner is the key. Getting there means embracing new skill sets, architectures and ways of working.

4.     Get help in making it happen

Having an external partner to assist in the formulation of data strategy through to execution can be very helpful in getting things right faster. Often the retailer will have expertise and experience which either needs specific augmentation or renewal of incumbent skill sets.

Machine learning has a key part to play in numerous retailing use cases from marketing attribution to recommender systems. Cloud providers are doing more and more of the heavy lifting. If used correctly, many API-based capabilities can be leveraged in a plug & play fashion to get rapid results.


The way forward for any retailer in today’s rapidly changing landscape is embracing change. At the heart of any successful change will be the better usage of data.