Data analysis helps retailers identify trends

Posted by Justin Hesser on November 25, 2013

Pattern recognition is one of our most crucial instincts. Being able to understand new things quickly by using information gleaned in the past could help early humans avoid eating the wrong berries, or being devoured by an aggressive animal. That tendency carried into the modern institution of sales: identifying what a customer needs is the first step towards being able to provide it for them. 

In the past, this process was largely organic. A salesperson could meet every person that came into their shop, and interact with them on a personal level to get information about what might motivate them. However, many modern companies don't have that luxury: they have hundreds of thousands or even millions of potential consumers, and global reaches. It's physically impossible to shake every customer's hand and have a face to face conversation.

Big data can help bridge that gap.

By using custom software, like the FileMaker service, companies can take the piles of piles of information they have, and sort it into something useable. Take, for example, clothing retailer Brooks Brothers.

The company maintains more than 500 physical and online clothing outlets worldwide. The amount of information collected was overwhelming, and no one person could parse through it without any level of effectiveness. Analytics director Cindy Lincks was at a loss, unable to sift through the spreadsheets quickly to find usable nuggets that would translate to sales. 

The solution, it turned out, was custom database software. Starting with their online store, Brooks Brothers began using big data principles to make decisions. Rather than poring over each granular piece of data, they outsourced the job to a firm that specialized in large-scale analytics. Some of the results, it turned out, were surprising. Lincks recalls one suit in particular whose prominent placement led to unforeseen problems. 

"Logically you'd put the suit in the first spot in the store order, but what we didn't notice was it was being overexposed in so many places, and it was being sold out quickly," Lincks told the Washington Post.

This wound up disappointing potential customers, and hindering conversions.

Now, Lincks and her team can solve such issues in real time, and much more quickly. Instead of spending precious time poring over individual data points, they can focus on innovation and resolution: the software provides reports automatically that once would have taken an estimated 8 hours to compile manually. Instead, the analytics team can just log into their dashboard, look at the info on customer views, inventory and ordering patterns and make quick determinations about where their marketing dollars should be allocated.

Big data isn't just for big businesses: smaller retailers can use these principles on a modified scale. A program like FileMaker pro can help you organize and analyze more quickly and efficiently than simple spreadsheets ever could. Instead of being caught by surprise by trends, you can monitor them as they happen, and be in the best possible position to take full advantage and convert more sales.  

It's the next best thing to having a personal conversation with each customer.