All Data Leads to the Customer

Workforce management data, such as time and attendance and payroll, is generally seen as information pertaining to the back end of retail operations. Managing employees is an activity that generally does not involve front-end customer interaction and data generated from this activity is usually siloed from the data retailers use to help guide their customer-facing activities.

However, while this viewpoint may be understandable, it is also short-sighted. As pointed out by numerous industry speakers at the recent KronosWorks 2013 conference in Orlando, Fla., retailers are in the business of serving customers. Therefore, every retail activity, and by extension data generated by every retail activity, is relevant to the customer experience. If in the ancient world of travel all roads led to Rome, in the modern world of retail all data leads to the customer.

Cutting Hours May Not Boost Profits
Paying store associates is a huge drain on most retailers’ profits. Therefore, retailers tend to track associate hours very closely and reflexively cut them as soon as payroll exceeds weekly or monthly forecasts. However, as David Schaub, manager of retail operations at Puma North America, explained in a KronosWorks session, reducing the number of associates on the floor to meet a short-term payroll goal may lead to the loss of sales and even customers due to shoppers who cannot receive the in-store assistance they need.

That is why Puma includes workforce data in its broader operational analysis of things like customer service levels and sales trends, and you should, too.

Know Who’s Available When
Retailers have gotten better about timing their promotions. Since the late ‘90s, they have increasingly coordinated promotions with relevant third parties like suppliers and distributors, helping to ensure that adequate stock levels are available and internal marketing efforts don’t conflict with brand-led promotions.

But internally, there is generally little coordination between marketers and workforce management personnel to ensure that stores and distribution centers will have enough workers to handle a promotional event. Coordinating promotions with suppliers to get the right number of goods to the store does little good if there aren’t enough associates to keep the shelves stocked.

In addition, retail marketers can examine data on employee scheduling in advance of promotions, so that for example if a local or ethnic holiday affects the availability of a large number of employees in a specific region, the timing of the promotion can be altered there.

The More Metadata, the Merrier
With the advent of Hadoop and other analytical platforms capable of rapidly sorting through reams of Big Data and uncovering otherwise hidden insights, retailers have taken an increasing interest in collecting and studying as much metadata as possible to improve their customer experience. The inclusion of workforce management data nicely spices up the retail metadata stew.

Maybe in-store sales improve when a certain percentage of associates have taken a paid vacation within a certain period of time. Perhaps there is a perfect mix of veteran and new employees that maximizes the efficiency of store operations. Whatever the case may be, the more data that comprises the “meta” in your metadata, the deeper the resulting analytical insight will be. All data leads to the customer, but first you have to find and then follow it.

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