Business intelligence in retail: Special report

In this report on business intelligence in retail, learn about retail industry challenges, and case studies of how retailers are implementing and managing BI.

In this vertical industry business intelligence (BI) special report, we've compiled popular news articles, expert...

Q/As and case studies on implementing, managing and maintaining of BI software in different industries. Learn about the latest BI trends and success stories in three major vertical industries — healthcare, finance and retail — and how your company can create and benefit from successful business intelligence initiatives.

In this section, you'll find out about business intelligence in retail, including how wholesalers and other retail companies and enterprises are using data integration, BI, data mining and other data management reports to lower marketing costs and increase revenue and profitability.

Retail industry BI news and case studies

When times are tight and customers aren't buying as much or as often as they used to, it's imperative that companies big and small do their due diligence to make sure they're targeting the right customers and can analyze and predict customer buying patterns to maximize their revenue and profitability. In In this section, find out how some companies are successfully managing business intelligence in retail.

Wholesaler turns to data integration adapters to help cure data inaccuracies

Associated Wholesalers Inc. (AWI) supplies inventory — meat, produce and other groceries — to about 2,400 independent grocery stores up and down the Mid-Atlantic region, helping stores not only manage their inventory but also coordinate advertisements and product specials. The problem AWI was running into back in 2005 was that the company's data was not well organized and the company was using several legacy applications and Oracle databases strewn across a Windows, Unix and mainframe environment.

But the data and systems integration AWI implemented now allows smaller, independent stores to compete with larger food chains by creating their own ads to help draw customers and new business.

AWI's goal was to get rid of the mainframe, transfer its operations to a Linux platform running Oracle databases and implement new BI capabilities on top of the new system and all in within five years. To integrate its systems and data, AWI knew it would need integration adapters that could integrate transactional data from various sources in real time to a BI system that checks inventory and manages ad planning. The company turned to Information Builders' iWay to help with the five-year migration process.

During the process, while some applications were being migrated from system to system, AWI was able to use the adapters to connect to some data still on the mainframe to its Oracle databases, allowing the company to see the improved reporting capacity before the migration was complete. For example: AWI was able to integrate sales data in an Oracle database with mainframe-based order management data to create summary reports with drill-down capabilities.

After four years AWI has completed about 80% of the migration and is already seeing the benefits of the improved reporting and ad hoc query analysis. The company's ad planning system was moved from the mainframe to an Oracle data warehouse that runs on a Java/J2EE-based Linux platform. This move allows AWI to get daily reports (versus the weekly reports it used to get). The migration also allows AWI to run on demand ad hock reports to better manage inventory against scheduled ad circulars that clients plan to run.

According to AWI, the ad planning process takes eight weeks, and before the migration from the mainframe the reports were full of inaccuracies. In some cases, retailers would end up getting the wrong items that didn't match with the ads. But the data and systems integration AWI implemented now allows smaller, independent stores to compete with larger food chains by creating their own ads to help draw customers and new business.

AWI hopes to finish the migration process by the end of 2009.

BI and data mining helps direct marketing firm hit their targets

Intellidyn is a database marketing services agency that helps other companies create and implement direct marketing campaigns, such as fliers, catalogs and other promotional items. Intellidyn uses data mining and data analytics software built on a SAS Institute Inc. BI platform to give its clients the ability to identify and target the right customers. This helps reduce marketing spending and increases the chance of a high return on investment (ROI).

Intellidyn, which has collected more than 600 million records from clients, collects data from credit agencies, property listings and other sources to come up with a profile for every adult in the U.S. It then loads the data into its warehouses with data mining and modeling capabilities customized to its clients requirements. The software also allows companies to look over and analyze historical data and patterns and predict future customer behavior.

How does this help Intellidyn clients? If a small cruise line has a booking goal of 50,000 passengers a year it would take the cruise company about 5 million random marketing solicitations with a 1% return on those solicitations to meet its booking goal. With Intellidyn's custom-built data warehouse, however, that same cruise line can analyze demographic and purchase history to create a smaller, but more susceptible list.

According to the company, Intellidyn clients reduce duplicate mailings by 2% - 6%, saving those clients precious dollars.

Intellidyn software also lets large enterprises with tens of thousands of product or service combinations optimize their marketing campaigns in order to maximize profits and sales, according to Intellidyn.

BI reporting tune-up for Suzuki

Until 2007, the only sales and inventory data many of Suzuki's dealers would see were in the form of paper reports faxed or mailed by the district manager on a monthly basis, making life and work tough for both the dealers and Suzuki to identify trends or problems.

To counter this issue and to help increase dealer sales and profitability, Suzuki decided to give its BI infrastructure a tune-up and add Web-based reporting into the mix with a major focus of the project being data integration and the delivery platform.

The data included inventory, sales and financial information stored in different source systems. Much of the data was on an AS400 platform in DB2 databases. Suzuki had also previously relied on canned reports via a green-screen AS400-based system. Later, the company moved to a scheme involving DB2 tables and many Microsoft Access implementations but that had some scaling problems, according to Suzuki officials.

To upgrade its BI and data management applications, Suzuki decided on Actuate Corp. because of its Java development environment. Thanks to the upgrade, the company uses 16 Actuate applications — including the Information Objects metadata later, which has made creating reports easier for Suzuki employees. The metadata layer acts as a calculation and transformation layer between different source systems and the Web-based reporting environment. Data isn't stored in the metadata layer; instead, enterprise information integration (EII) technology is used to find data as needed.

Suzuki decided to give its BI infrastructure a tune-up and add Web-based reporting into the mix with a major focus of the project being data integration and the delivery platform.

Fifteen Web-based BI reports are available to selected Suzuki employees thanks to the upgrade. The reports aid the company manage inventory, identify trends, review financial performance and evaluate a dealer's sale performance. Managers are also able to compare dealer performance with regional or national averages and can easily access Web reports on a daily basis and forward them to dealers via email.

Suzuki had two goals for its BI upgrade implementation, according to company officials. One, sell more products by helping dealers know their strengths/weaknesses and two, dealer profitability. Information from the reports will help Suzuki to decide to sell or close a dealership if it's unprofitable and provides dealers with important information that can help their business.

Benefits of on-demand business intelligence in retail

Nearly seven years ago, Casual Male upgraded its IT infrastructure and replaced the old mainframes with newer, space-efficient systems. The company also turned to on-demand software for its BI reporting needs due to the low start-up cost and minimal IT investment on-demand BI offers companies.

In 2003, Casual Male realized its BI reporting and analysis capabilities were lacking and it needed a better way to plot out inventory, understand customer buying behavior and track results of direct marketing campaigns. At first, the company turned to traditional BI systems but back away after seeing the price and implementation requirements attached to traditional BI.

Casual Male eventually went with Oco Inc. which claimed it could create, host and launch an on-demand BI system in about six weeks.

Most importantly, Casual Male wanted better reporting capabilities for its direct catalog and Web sales, so Oco set up the platform — a hosted warehouse that integrates data from different applications and source systems via a night batch upload. The warehouse also conducted data quality checks and appended incomplete fields or flagged data with discrepancies. Oco also layered its BI reporting and key performance indicator (KPI) module with the data warehouse. Casual Male was able to access the reporting and KPIs through the Internet.

Merchandisers and planners were leery about the new system at first until they saw the reports. They now rely on the reports to operate the business. Casual Male executives have also taken well to the new report system. Before the on-demand system, executives would have to go through 150 different reports that didn't have what they needed, but due to the implementation Oco helped the company create 23 reports that have the data the execs need to run Casual Male successfully.

Oco also created a feature that allows authorized users to create purchase orders through the system while looking at current inventory, buying patterns and other useful information. Order information is then sent to the vendor and Casual Male's finance system.

Then, in 2006, Oco updated the existing planning process with a forecast module and a task management system. Casual male noticed an immediate financial impact as profit margins improved by 3.5% over the course of two years.

More on vertical BI:

  • Want more healthcare BI and data management news? Check out our vertical industry resource center

More vertical BI reports:
Business intelligence in financial services: Special report

Dig Deeper on Business intelligence best practices