Retailers Shop for Ways to Harness Big Data

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of Dell’s retail customers who came together at our Bay Area solutions center to talk about the impact of Big Data and social media analytics on their businesses. The CIOs and VPs represented an interesting mix of large and midsized retailers from online as well as brick-and-mortar companies. While some of the online retailers were farther along in embracing analytics than their traditional counterparts, all still struggle to determine how best to use analytics to better understand their customers’ wants and needs.

The retail industry is going through an interesting transition as retailers strive to harness Big Data as a strategy for increasing sales. This is something my colleague Darin Bartik discussed at length in a recent interview. In addition to increased sales, however, they’re also looking for greater opportunities to engage with customers and participate in ongoing, online conversations. The retailers I spoke with all understand that people are talking about their brands online everyday whether they chose to monitor it or not.

The group agreed that listening to customers was the best way to discover what they didn’t know, but many were unsure about how to go about it. To complicate things, several customers alluded to the growing wedge between their IT and marketing organizations. While IT continues to struggle to keep the lights on and optimize day-to-day BI operations, marketing is eager to explore new ways of reaching out to customers as well as deploy new methods to collect and analyze various forms of customer data.

Across the board, all the retailers agreed that now is the time to develop a robust understanding of their business needs and how analytics can support them, so they can fit solutions to challenges rather than the other way around.

For the past seven years, Dell has refined its own social media analytics strategy. In fact, Dell’s cutting-edge use of analytics was the subject of a recent article by Rob Enderle for CIO. We realized early on that being able to see, analyze and draw insights from our data enabled us to address customers’ needs proactively, which would impact Dell’s brand in a positive way and grow our business. The example I shared with the retailers definitely hit home:

You recently announced a product or kicked off a marketing campaign and want to measure its impact in real time by tracking customer feedback using all the conversations about the product. You then can convert these conversations into a meaningful metric to track product/campaign success in real-time. But that’s only one example and it’s really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential use cases for social media analytics. You can also use social media conversations to address a host of other business challenges. A few are listed below

It’s no surprise that social media analytics has become one of the most popular use cases of Big Data, but it also creates a lot of challenges. Dell’s retail customers echoed the top concerns many companies across all industry segments have about delving deeper into this area, including how to simplify all the complexities and ensure data security.

To answer these questions, you first need to determine your current analytics capabilities and which additional capabilities will be needed to achieve your goals. Fortunately, as discussed in greater detail in this Dell Power Solutions article, we’ve developed an intuitive model to help customers assess their current levels, determine what can be accomplished if they expanded their analytics and most important, identify what it will take to get them to the next level.

Many of the retail executives liked this model because it would help them improve their readiness and put them on a finite point on their analytics journey. They seemed overwhelmed and rightfully so as they are tasked with keeping up with increased demand from line-of-business managers who want new insights while still trying to devote enough resources and time to optimize current BI architectures.

Others expressed high interest in getting their data governance right while investing in Data Management and data quality capabilities. Additionally, they all were faced with ever-increasing demands from their CMOs who want to exploit new marketing trends like social media to glean insights while CIOs want to get day-to-day business analytics right.

Bridging the gap between the two groups requires perseverance and partnerships, but it’s an achievable goal that can deliver strong returns for retailers. Drop me a line drop me a line at to share insight into how you’re bridging the gap.

About the Author: Shree Dandekar