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INFOTECH: How Data Can Deliver Results Without Big Budgets


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The current hype around "big data" raises the spectre of big budgets to match - but, says Angelina dos Santos-Barrett of Innervation, most retailers can extract far more value from their current data without embarking on expensive specialist projects.

"You don't need to pay a lot money for data you don't already have, or hire a specialist team," says Dos Santos-Barrett. "You simply have to make better use of the assets already sitting around in your organisation."

All but the smallest corner-store retailers, says Dos Santos-Barrett, "are gathering data every day. People are used to considering it only as sales and inventory data, but once you start to match that with what you have in your marketing databases, your loyalty programme and maybe a CRM system, it becomes far more valuable. All you have to do is tie it all together."

This doesn't have to be complicated, she adds: "It's literally just about finding a few unique pieces of information like a name, a mobile number, an email address or a masked credit card number. Once you've matched these across a few databases, you can start to build a picture of your customers that can feed into your development of new products and services."

Many retailers are missing opportunities presented by their loyalty programmes in particular, she says. "If your loyalty information is sitting in an isolated database, you are really not getting value out of that investment," she says. "You have their name, their card number and the fact that they've made at least one purchase -- but are you looking at exactly how many times they've been through your tills and what they bought‘ Do you have an understanding of what might motivate them to come back‘"

Too many retailers, she says, limit their engagement with loyalty customers to an occasional "Hi, you've earned R50 credit" -- and many don't even do that. "If you're not regularly sending relevant offers and reminders, you're relying on the customer to remember to present their card at each transaction - and many will quickly lose interest. If you're counting on your cashiers to remind people, you have to consider that they're also under pressure to move the queue through the till as quickly as possible, and there's no time for a long conversation about the loyalty programme."

The only solution, she says, is to use the information gathered at the till to maintain customer engagement beyond the till. "Your customers give you valuable information about themselves -- you have to use it creatively to give them something valuable back. It's pointless having a loyalty programme, for example, if you're sending the same generic set of special offers to all your loyalty customers. If I regularly buy the same premium brand of coffee, sending me 20% off your chicory-blend house brand is helping nobody."

"You can only give your customers what they want when you understand who they are," says Dos Santos-Barrett. "And all you need to do that is a relatively simple strategy, and a simple interface to your data. Retailers can start small and still see big results."

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