It’s November and that means Black Friday—the kick-off to holiday shopping—is only weeks away. Macro trends abound as usual, which always reaffirm what we already know: it’s going to be a busy shopping weekend. But beyond that, the details are vague for any retailer looking for a competitive advantage in the data.
While macro trends are great for investors, they are almost useless for individual retailers. Trend reports can’t tell individual retailers how much seasonal staff to hire, how to schedule a promotional calendar, how much server capacity to have available, or if a brick-and-mortar location is overstaffed and underperforming.
Retailers need real-time data to make the most of shoppers’ favorite time of year. Here are three areas on which to focus:
“Online” is no longer a singular entity. Your desktop-based storefront, your mobile experience, and even your social media outlets are all revenue generators, and they all are pumping out metrics to the tune of your online consumer base’s needs. Here’s a shortlist of business questions that demand real-time metrics:
- What percentage volume traffic are you experiencing?
- What devices are delivering the most traffic?
- Is your mobile site generating revenue, or producing abandoned carts?
- How many sales are generated by social media per hour?
- Do you have the hot products available in the right locations?
You may have noticed that the answers to these questions don’t spell out exactly how to respond to low performance. These are tracking KPIs; you’ll want to have some analysis set up so that you can know how to react. For example, a spike in web traffic has implications beyond just sales: is your server able to handle the volume? Can you geolocate them? Is weather stopping customers from reaching your brick-and-mortar location? Do you have the product in your warehouses and coming down the supply chain to meet the demand?
Any of these is highly plausible, and you need real-time data to be able to address the resulting issues immediately.
Supply Chain Health
Your supply chain is your lifeline. It feeds your customers’ demands. And when the holiday’s promise of high-volume sales is on the line, you need to know what is happening in your supply chain as it happens.
For example, if there’s bad weather in Denver, will your warehouse in Texas be short on critical items? Will your California locations get the sizes and styles they need on time? You need to know immediately when planes are grounded and highways are shut down so that you can shift products between stores, contract with other carriers and find your way around the logistical roadblock.
You’re probably an expert in brick-and-mortar retail. Are sales numbers down? Find out about it now and bring them up tonight instead of waiting for tomorrow morning’s report. Do you need more sales reps, or do you need to send one or two home? Your suburban mall location is running low on size 4 of a popular style—can you contact your supplier and add an order to this week’s shipment?
Real-time data is all about knowing what you need to know when there’s still time to do something about it. When you have a dashboard that can deliver real-time stats to your phone or tablet, you can manage by exception and respond to the outliers rather than spending hours pouring over data to seek out anomalies.
Beyond the Holidays
Of course it’s important to have this kind of data at any time of the year; but as you’re preparing to boost sales for this critical time of year, you don’t want to miss out on any opportunities for revenue. Trends can only tell you what has already happened. Forecasts are educated guesses at what’s going to happen. Only real-time data can tell you exactly what is happening and give you the information you need to make better decisions. That’s going to be retailers’ difference between an average revenue report and a successful year end.