Data vs intuition: what drives decision making in retail today?

March 14, 2021 | By Shruthi Nair

Data has been the hype term for any and every industry these days and rightly so. From determining an individual consumer’s purchasing decision to influencing major elections, the potential of data is being tapped more and more with each passing day.

This can be both exciting and scary because data is becoming an increasingly powerful tools with no bounds and as is with most things, when caught in the clutches of the wrong person (or entity) it could be catastrophic. The shocking findings of the Cambridge Analytica scandal where the company was acquiring and using personal data about Facebook users isn’t news to us. Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma showed exactly how the big tech giants and social media firms are using people’s data and information without their knowledge to influence not just the way they think, but also the way they behave.

Speaking of Netflix, the company’s CEO Reed Hastings had said in an interview once that his biggest competitor and barrier is people’s need to sleep – and when tech giants see a potential problem or threat, they find a solution. Scary, right?

Having said that, data when put to use efficiently and ethically, can be a gift that just keeps giving. The buzz around data and technology has been there for quite some time, which amplified last year, however, many companies built on traditional business models are still encountering problems with utilizing and implementing data to its full potential.

For retailers specifically, data can be an absolute boon when it comes to capitalizing on promotions and offer, predicting trends, advancing pricing models, determining product and purchase decisions, building and retaining loyal customers and so on. The availability and accessibility of data and the fact that people are slowly getting more comfortable sharing their personal information with retailers so they can tailor their offerings to suit the customer’s desires is putting retailers in a better position.

Leading retail and hospitality conglomerate, Landmark Group, for example, generates a tremendous amount of transactional data every day. The company’s Group Chief Information Officer, Mohamed El Fanichi shared exclusive insights on the subject in an interview with RetailME’s newly launched video series Up-To-Data.

“How do you maximize the value out of this data? To better understand the customer across every aspect of their journey and to deliver a seamless experience that motivates them to keep coming back. This is where data is crucial – in understanding those experiences,” said Mohamed El Fanichi, Group CIO of Landmark Group.

For a company with a portfolio so diverse, it certainly is a challenge to extract, model and share the data and make sure that it is protected and used relevantly to draw insights. However, another challenge is to not become a victim to the algorithm blindness. The sheer amount of information extracted, curated and transferred within the company can be overwhelming. And then the data needs to be analyzed and broken down for it to make sense at every level of the organisation and finally a system needs to be devised for the all the data to be nurtured and used so each brand and arm of the company can reap the benefits from it, the technology function becomes the gatekeeper of the single view of truth.

Data is all but a set of facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis it is collected from Customers that show what they’ve purchased, what kinds of decisions they’ve made, and what areas they’ve shown interest in, it is all about recording what has happened in the past. As much as we would like it to be, it is no crystal ball that can foretell the future. Given how the world we live in is rapidly changing, as a result of which consumer demand, behaviors and habits are also drastically wavering, can retailers just wholly and solely rely on data for all the decisions they make? If it was a tug-of-war between data and intuition, which team would win?

“Data cannot predict exactly the future, but it can capture key trends that can allow you to forecast a better outcome and it can give you a pretty good idea on options you may consider. At Landmark Group, we are an organization of 45,000 people. We aim for data and technology to level the playing field in accessing insights and analysis at every level of the organisation, so we try to model the data to support self-service and autonomy and focus on key KPI’s to say ‘just look at these 3-4 trends because that’s what the customer has looked at in the past.’ So, our store colleagues – based on the information and shopping behaviors – can tell you (suggest) new products and services the customers might want to look at that is similar to their previous purchases, giving us a competitive advantage,” he explained.

“Having said that, I think you cannot do without intuition or a gut feel (for those split-second decisions). We need to understand where the market is moving and the trends that buyers are leaning towards. There are some really specific skills that AI isn’t capable of replicating (at least for now), such as creativity, which is going to be in the realm of humans for some time,” he added.

With retail, it would have to be happy marriage of data and intuition as artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies combined with data will make predictions more accurate, systemic and mathematical, but retailers will have to be more human in empathizing, understanding and interacting with their customers – as people and not just as businessmen – in order to win their loyalty.

“The ultimate decision rests with the buyer, the planner and the retailer – and what they feel. we try to get their feedback and utilize our data to make accurate predictions and scientifically backed decisions. So, it’s not about replacing humans, but for us to be able to use this technology – AI, machine learning, data – from the cusp. Because if you present the information in the right way, individuals are capable of making phenomenal decisions.  It is intuition and knowhow powered by data, and that’s what we do and where we’ve seen some success in key areas, which we will continue to do as a group,” he concluded.





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