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LAS VEGAS — The convenience channel has long embraced the need for data when it comes to how stores operate and how consumer trends and demands are changing. But it's no longer enough just to collect and report that information. Today, retailers need to move beyond those first steps and use the data to make more profitable business decisions, a key goal of business intelligence.
Sheetz Inc. is one convenience store chain moving into this area. Speaking during the NACS Show panel, "Minding Your Business Intelligence," Sheetz IT Senior Analyst Nanette Pittman explained that the company's business intelligence is about people, process and technology — and the alignment of all three.
"Buying technology won't solve the problem if we don't have the people," she said.
The retailer employs several technologies around business intelligence: a database comprised of a data warehouse and data marts, and business intelligence tools such as report writing and analytics. Sheetz is also exploring the Big Data pathway, she noted, and the skill set needed to take that next step.
As for its overall business intelligence process, the company has a data governance council that meets quarterly, a data steward group that works on a more day-to-day basis, and its IT teams that provide leadership over all the groups, Pittman said. The process has enabled existing teams to move toward analytics, develop common toolsets and deploy training, among other benefits.
At Double Quick Inc., business intelligence has helped the c-store chain understand the story behind its decreasing prepay gas customers, or those who pay inside the store instead of at the pump, said Howard Hyche, director of information technology at Double Quick, who joined Pittman on the panel.
Not that long ago, Double Quick would have pinned the declining customer count on the price of gas on the street and made adjustments. However, by drilling down deeper into the metrics, Double Quick was able to pinpoint key learnings about prepay customer count, the number of fuel gallons sold and overall basket ring inside the store — and make the correct adjustments, Hyche said.
"Sometimes business intelligence tells you what you are doing is right and to continue doing it," he said, noting in this case, the business intelligence told the company "what it was doing wasn't working."
It's also important for retailers to share business intelligence with their business partners, like vendors, so they can help make better decisions.
"Business intelligence is more than just transaction data, and there is a difference between operational and financial data," Hyche explained. "And sometimes the action you take is [to] just keep doing what you do well."
The approach to collecting and using data differs among retailers, and some approaches have key shortcomings. For example, according to Marek Polonski, senior vice president of Applied Predictive Technologies, reporting data such as comp sales by district and by category provides useful information, but it doesn't tell a retailer what to do next.
Correlational analysis is also good, he noted, but presents a "chicken and the egg problem," or which came first. In addition, predictive analysis causes a problem because it relies on past data to predict the future.
Some retailers are taking an advanced approach to business intelligence by employing a test vs. control strategy. Under this method, retailers test things such as new products, pricing, promotions and marketing in select stores or markets and then measure the results against control stores or markets.
"There are lot of convenience stores using this concept. If you are not, then you are behind your peers," Polonski said.
In the end, retailers may find that rolling out the test program chainwide will work, or they may find rolling it out to targeted stores or markets would be most profitable. The key to this method is a good control group, he added.
It also helps the entire organization to have clear definitions when it comes to business intelligence, noted panelist Hubert Williams, chief information officer at Maverik Inc.