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Data: The new fuel for growth

Ahmed Galal Ismail Biography - CEO Majid Al Futtaim Ventures

Opinion

Data: The new fuel for growth

Ahmed Galal Ismail, CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Ventures, on how retailers can tap one of the world’s hottest commodities to create truly unique customer experiences

This May, The Economist declared on its cover page that “the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”. The strategic relevance of data to the shopping, retail and entertainment ecosystem is particularly relevant because of increased competition online and offline, shifting demographics and escalating customer expectations.

Customers, especially millennials and generation Z, are digital natives who demand and expect instant gratification, personalization and a great experience from every brand. PWC’s Total Retail 2016 report predicts that operators who don’t meet the new shopping experience standard may see a serious slump in sales as a result. In response, consumer-facing operators should make harnessing the full potential of data a strategic priority, especially since they already have access to vast amounts of consumer data through their existing operations.

So how should operators best map out the road to success, using data and technology? We see it as a four-step process.

Get the data

Firstly, the key is to get the data and get as much of it as possible. Operators must understand who their customers are, beyond just name, mobile phone number and basic info. What do they like and dislike, their search and purchase history, their shopping patterns, etc. This requires upfront investments in new data capture methods, such as beacons and data storage infrastructure that is secure, scalable, reliable and sophisticated enough to deal with structured and unstructured data.

While some data may not appear useful today, it’s important to collect it while you can, because its future usefulness is hard to predict. For example, what kind of data one would need to understand whether shoppers know what they are looking for and are in a functional ‘to shop’ mindset or whether they are in an experiential and exploratory ‘going shopping’ mindset? And personalize the shopping experience accordingly.

Reskill the team

The next stop on the roadmap to success is reskilling the team. Data is only as good as what you can take from it and working with statistics on such a widespread level takes a very specific type of mind to properly analyze. At Majid Al Futtaim, we’ve employed Data Scientists, some of the most brilliant statistician minds and writers of code that can make sense of the data amassed across our ten business verticals and feed the business with essential insights to help shape decision making.

However, when it comes to delivering exceptional customer experience across several businesses, each brand’s marketing and operations teams are responsible. It’s evident that a disconnect emerges between those who understand the data and those who understand the business.

Enter the role of the ‘Analytics Translator’, colleagues in Majid Al Futtaim who can articulate business needs and challenges to Data Scientists, who would, in turn, crunch the data and respond with an output that can be used to identify opportunities and solutions. Essentially, Data Translators add a layer of business insight to the analyzed data and help translate it into what consumers actually want and desire. Figuratively speaking, both their roles are not only to extract the oil from the ground, but to refine it into something that can fuel the business.

Take swift action

Thirdly, it’s not enough for retailers and operators, both offline and online, to adopting a data-first strategy towards understanding their customers, but with this data must come swift action. Access to real-time data is crucial at a time when people change their habits and tendencies at the introduction of the newest and latest trends, so acting quick and mapping customers’ behaviors against products and services is paramount.

Based on this quick action, operators can generate recommendations based on customer demographics, purchase history and other behavioral tendencies, in some cases leading to new business models altogether.

Three rules of failure

To compete in an economy powered by shoppers, it is increasingly clear that brands must leverage their information assets to continuously improve their offering by innovating and doing something new, which requires courage and an element of risk taking. Finally, throughout this process, operators must abide by the three rules of failure: fail fast, fail cheap and fail forward. Find out fast whether your idea pans out, without investing too much in it to minimize your losses, ultimately allowing for any failure to be a learning curve rather than a loss. Gathering this data and putting it to use does come with risk and potential losses, but failing fast, failing cheap and failing forward allows for even failures to be wins. Operators are sitting on oil fields of data, and they have access to the equipment – talent and technology – to drill and refine barrels and barrels of the stuff. Information is the new fuel to success. It is now time to let it propel businesses forward.

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