rue21 has been making news for its investment in analytics in order to transform itself into a more customer-centric business.
We caught up with Dr. Mark Chrystal, Chief Analytics Officer at rue21 to understand more about how he perceives the role of analytics in retail today, his upcoming talk at NRF’s Big Show and the future of retail.
MANTHAN: In your role as the Chief Analytics Officer, what would you say is the biggest challenge facing rue21 in 2019?
MARK: The biggest challenge I face is the ability to explain what is happening in the industry and more importantly, with our current, lapsed and potential customers. My job is to help the business navigate the environment and provide insights that help chart a course to success. This is particularly challenging in the current retail environment and for a company that is in the midst of a turnaround.
“We are now seeing analytics embedded across each functional unit as means of explaining what is happening, where it is happening, and how best to respond.”
MANTHAN: In your 20 years of retail experience, what have you noticed about the changing retail industry’s attitude towards analytics?
MARK: When I started in retail, analytics was being thought of as secondary to the success of a retail business. Analytics groups, if they did exist, were often in their own silos away from the day-to-day running of the business. At that time, most of the CEOs and head merchants across retail were trained based on having direct face-to-face interaction with their customers, and therefore thought about the business through a much more qualitative micro-level lens.
With the advent of eCommerce and social media and social influencers, the environment is far more diverse and complex than it was twenty years ago. We are now seeing analytics embedded across each functional unit as means of explaining what is happening, where it is happening, and how best to respond.
“Retailers need to employ real-time analytics to help them identify emerging themes, issues and opportunities.”
MANTHAN: AI promises to make data-driven business processes more intelligent. What are the top use cases you think might have big impact in retail today?
MARK: The top use cases for AI today, are in the automation of rote tasks, and in the identification of patterns and opportunities that are not as readily discernable via other analytical methodologies or business processes.
MANTHAN: We understand you’ll be speaking at NRF. What is the product paradigm shift going to be about?
MARK: I will be speaking at NRF about the shift within retail towards data-driven decision-making and organizational culture. The presentation will focus mostly on how merchandising functions need to, and are, making this shift.
“Retailers need to create organizational cultures that are capable of interpreting real-time insights and taking action on those insights.”
MANTHAN: As enterprise and customer data continue to grow and customer journeys evolve, how can retailers keep up with sensing, analyzing and responding to opportunities potentially unfolding every day?
MARK: I believe retailers need to employ real-time analytics to help them identify emerging themes, issues and opportunities with their customers and competitors. This means having models tuned to real-time analysis, alerts and insights across the retail footprint. This also means that retailers need to create organizational cultures that are capable of interpreting real-time insights and most importantly, taking action on those insights.
Most retail organizations have not evolved to this point yet and are still grappling with the change from the old merchant model to the model that modern customers clearly demand. The best retailers understand this, have made those changes, or created those types of cultures at inception and they are reaping the rewards.
MANTHAN: Thank you, Mark!
rue21 has selected Manthan, a leading provider of cloud analytics and artificial intelligence solutions, to help advance its analytic capabilities. The retailer will be rolling out Manthan’s Customer Data Platform, Customer Analytics and Enterprise Retail Analytics solutions to gain insights within the business and better connect with consumers.
Visit us at NRF 2019, Booth 4719 for more information on how Manthan can help you use analytics to become a future ready retailer.
This year at the NRF Retail Big Show 2019, Manthan will be showcasing The Store That Knows
This AI-powered, omnichannel entity offers analytics and insights 24×7, giving you smart recommendations while implementing your decisions. All in natural language.
And if that’s reason enough, take a look at the following infographic to see who else is likely to be at the NRF Big Show.
Changes are rampant in the retail industry. Every day we hear of both big brands (and small ones) closing shop or downsizing in an effort to stay lean and competitive. To understand in depth what’s happening in the retail landscape, we spoke to Doug Stephens.
Doug is the founder of Retail Prophet, and one of the world’s foremost retail industry futurists. The author of two groundbreaking books on retail, a nationally syndicated retail columnist, and over 20 years of experience in the retail industry, Doug brings together his unique perspective to provide Manthan with his insights on retailing, technology and consumer behavior.MANTHAN: You speak of a sea change in retail and the trouble that’s coming for brick and mortar stores – can you explain this revolution?
DOUG: We have entered an era where media (in all its various form factors) has become “the store”. Whether it’s a magazine ad I can activate with my smartphone, my connected appliances, my smart TV or my in-home artificial intelligence, media is no longer a call-out to visit a store – it is the store. And this fact will only continue to escalate and permeate more aspects of our consumption. Therefore, the role and nature of physical stores must change in order to adapt.
Stores have to become places that move beyond the mere distribution of products and become enchanted spaces that distribute remarkable experiences. The problem is, most retailers aren’t internalizing this reality yet. Most store experiences remain unremarkable and it’s a fact that’s taking a toll on retail generally. If we’re honest, the retail brands that are getting wiped out aren’t being mourned because they had in fact become irrelevant long before they died.
“The retail brands that are getting wiped out aren’t being mourned because they had in fact become irrelevant long before they died.”
MANTHAN: What’s the role of technology in this revolution and which retailers are leading?
DOUG: Technology has essentially become the connective tissue in every aspect of our lives, whether we’re talking about business, leisure, commerce etc. In retail, we know that upwards of 80 percent of all retail transactions are being influenced, to some degree, by digital.
The retailers that are leading are those that are essentially using technology as the mortar between the bricks of their customer experience. They’re viewing technology as an essential means of removing friction from the customer experience as well as fortifying moments of experiential delight. Among the brands that I see as excelling are Amazon, Sephora, Starbucks, Wayfair – to name only a few.
MANTHAN: We hear experience becoming more important than the product – is that only for high involvement categories, while the drivers in other categories might be different?
DOUG: The consumer world is now divided into two very distinctly different and viable experiential spaces. On the one hand some brands are winning through high-fidelity experiences that are immersive, memorable and emotionally connected. Other brands are killing it in their categories with high utility experiences that are frictionless, fast, convenient and very cognitively connected – they just make sense. Both of these positions work and both are valued by consumers. The problem is, most retailers are neither high-fidelity nor high-utility and increasingly, that makes them irrelevant.
MANTHAN: Most businesses are struggling to become truly omni-channel – what’s your advice to them?
DOUG: I suppose I have two thoughts. First, if you’re still working on omni-channel, consider that Amazon, Google and others are already dealing in the realm of omni-presence, in the sense that they’ve launched technologies like Amazon’s Echo that are quietly infiltrating the majority of homes in North America and available to consumers 24/7. Secondly, I’m not a big fan of the word omni-channel. I prefer to think in terms of the customer journey with a brand and the various problems or opportunities along that journey.
If we can develop an intense and granular understanding of the consumer journey we can leverage the unique attributes of each channel to create the best possible solutions for the customer. With this insight, we can then begin to build the back and front end systems and technology architecture to bring the experience to life!
MANTHAN: Retailers that can best harness customer data will win – how far out do you see this becoming a reality?
DOUG: 200 years ago the local merchant that knew their customers most intimately won. And they gathered information about their customers by being discreet about their privacy, delivering personalized recommendations and experiences and by building trust.
Today is absolutely no different. So, yes, retailers with the best data have an advantage. But getting that data means that a clear exchange of value has to transpire. Data and privacy are no different than any other currency and consumers will spend their data with those brands and retailers that respect it and deliver clear value in exchange for it.
“I believe we’ll see a reengineering of the economic model for retail.”
MANTHAN: What’ does the ‘store of the future’ or ‘the intelligent store’ look like to you?
DOUG: 99 percent of the retail we see around us today is a relic of the 20th century. It’s retail that was built for a pre-digital era and a completely different consumer reality.
The store of the future in my opinion won’t be a “store”. It will be a space that draws the shopper into a story about their brand and their products. It will be less about the products themselves and more about productions – experiences that are interactive, immersive and fun. Technology will allow us to activate store experiences that are unique, personalized and adaptive based on unique customer preferences and needs.
Technologies built into the skeleton of the space will deliver real-time, website-like insights that will allow retailers to respond in real time to different customer groups and dynamics within the space.
Essentially, retail stores will transform from being the mini-warehouses they are today, to becoming entertainment and hospitality spaces that trade on social, physical and emotionally connected experiences. Products will come along in the jet stream across channels.
I also believe we’ll see a reengineering of the economic model for retail. Look for more retailers working directly with brands to create experiences – what I call physical media – for which they’re paid upfront, rather than being dependent on product sales.
MANTHAN: Thank you, Doug!