Here's How Sainsbury's is Using Big Data to Drive Customer Experience
Retail data has been a major component of driving customer experience for a while now. However, as we move into 2018, fresh thinking is required to make sure methods don't go stale.
UK supermarket chain Sainsbury's began life in 1869 when John James Sainsbury and his wife opened a convenience store in London. The store started out selling fresh produce, but later expanded to stock dry goods such as tea and sugar. Sainsbury's was unique among its peers, offering a wide range of own-brand products, and featuring marble counters, mosaic floors, and white-tiled walls - instead of the wood and sawdust floors which were typical of the time.
By 1928, Sainsbury's had over 128 shops under its brand. Today the supermarket chain employs 191,000 staff, and has revenues of $34,149 million, placing it at #310 on the Fortune Global 500 .
Fresh Thinking on Retail Data
Sainsbury's has an awful lot of moving parts. Aside from its staff, the company stocks 40,000 products, and has 1,300 stores, a franchise petrol business, a bank, a pharmacy, a fleet of trucks, and recently acquired catalogue chain Argos, resulting in an incredibly vast and complex business.
However, where some may have been overwhelmed by the scope of the Sainsbury's infrastructure, their new Chief Data Officer, Andrew Day, was inspired. "In the complexity of the business, what I started to realise from a chief data officer's perspective and from an analytics perspective, there was just loads of opportunity, literally opportunity everywhere," Day said. "Whether you're talking about the farm, or the process through to the fork, there was opportunity to apply data and analytics to create value for our customers and for our business."
The opportunities of which Day speaks involves using data to manage every facet of the business. Retail data can be used for growing better produce, producing better dairy products through livestock feeding practices, improving how stock is brought to stores, measuring the effectiveness of merchandising displays, and many more applications besides.
"In a business that turns over close to PS30 billion," said Day, "you only have to move some of those small levers a tiny bit to make a significant difference."
The most significant change implemented by Day was to move 60 staff into a new data centre for excellence - The Humanalysts.
The new centre is tasked with identifying opportunities (dubbed 'moonshots') within the Sainsbury's business which are ripe for data driven innovation. The most ambitious of these projects is the Data Lake programme. This innovation seeks to process the 300 transactions per second running through Sainsbury's checkouts, and turn them into a vast pool of data which can then be leveraged to drive better buying- and customer experience-focussed decisions.
The Humanalysts are also continuing an aggressive programme of recruitment and coalescence, with a goal of building an enterprise community of 600-700 staff, all focused on driving retail data-based policy.
"Increasingly one of my contentions is that for years, we've talked about the fact that we have to educate the analyst community to be able to talk to the business," said Day. "I think today actually, with the coming of data and analytics driving every part of the business, increasingly important is the business starting to be able to talk the analytics language."
It's clear Sainsbury's is dedicated to constantly reassessing the retail data landscape and looking for new ways to use this powerful resource to improve all facets of the business, with an eye firmly focussed on the customer experience at the end of the supply chain. With the Humanalysts expanding rapidly and driving meaningful change, the future of retail data looks bright.
The final word goes to Sainsbury's Chief Data Officer, Andrew Day.
"We're a business with loads and loads of data. We have 191,000 colleagues, which is more colleagues than some organisations have customers. We have loads and loads of products and we obviously have millions of customers through those three data streams, the colleague data, the customer data and the commercial data. We're trying to make everything better through analytics. If you can plant that seed in everybody in the business's mind and they start to think about how you can apply analytics to the particular problem they have, this has become the byword to what we're trying to be."
You can hear Sainsbury's Argos's Head of Operations Development, Nigel Blunt, speak at eTail Europe 2018 in June at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London.
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