Why data is more important than ever during times of change

Data insights can genuinely help brands to differentiate themselves during seasonal periods and times of unexpected change, as we’re experiencing right now.

While some retail sectors have been crippled by the Coronavirus pandemic, the hardware industry has experienced an unexpected sales surge as homeowners find themselves with more time to attend to household repairs, maintenance, and DIY projects.

At a store level, hardware retailers have had to work hard to keep up with the increased demand from customers while juggling new social distancing rules. In addition to ensuring health and hygiene protocols are strictly followed, floor staff must also monitor the on-shelf availability of in-demand products, which has seen some retailers place purchasing limits on certain items. Stores have had no choice but to become more agile by adopting new practices to help keep their operations running smoothly.

The field marketing industry has stepped in to play an integral part in helping retailers manage the situation, and many brands have also increased their outsourced field staff to assist with stock replenishment. In these unprecedented times, field marketing and merchandising agencies have the staff resources readily available to do whatever is necessary to support clients, often working day and night.

However, as lockdown restrictions start to ease and a looming economic downturn is predicted, brands now need to consider what they can do at a strategic level to give themselves a competitive edge. 

Paul Gardiner, business development manager, Hardware Division, for Australia's largest retail marketing services company, CROSSMARK, says business intelligence reporting and data analysis are becoming more important than ever. “Data insights can genuinely help brands to differentiate themselves during seasonal periods and times of unexpected change, as we’re experiencing right now. Understanding consumer behaviour, and the categories that are trending within a defined timeframe, allows brands to quickly react to market trends.” 

Tracking the hibernation economy

With more people becoming accustomed to spending time at home and the hibernation economy”, where industries have temporarily shut down, expected to remain in place for some time to come, retailers need to adapt to changing shopping habits. The hardware industry has seen this firsthand, as people shift away from buying home security devices and invest in fencing products, for example.

Therefore, being on the front foot when it comes to data is critical. As technology continues to advance at a rapid rate, and with it providing improved access to data, more brands are turning to analytics to inform business strategies and drive sales. The hardware industry is seeing this trend with the shift towards predictive analysis, which is where CROSSMARK believes the future lies.

As one of the biggest field marketing agencies in Australia, CROSSMARK has established a reputation for its in-house business intelligence team that creates data-driven deployment tactics that deliver agile sales strategies. 

According to Gardiner, “To achieve the best possible outcome for our clients, we use four key sets of data that are scrutinised by our in-house business intelligence team who compare and analyse figures, identify trends and draw conclusions. These data collection points include the supplier’s monthly KPI reports, weekly inventory reports from a retailer, such as Bunnings, and CROSSMARK’s internal system that consists of more than 3.5 million data points from its clients. These figures are then overlaid with information from a range of other sources to help optimise instore executions for clients.

Using data to identify market trends

Data analysis tracks trending information over time to help inform decisions regarding product on hand versus actual store volume. This provides the ability to ascertain quickly and easily which stores are carrying too little stock compared to the actual level of sales transactions or, conversely, whether a store is carrying too much stock for too few sales. Immediate action can then be taken to migrate those stores into the optimal zone.

“The insights we draw from analysing data allows us to create bespoke dashboard reports with detailed graphs that clearly demonstrate sales and product volume by store, explains Gardiner. “This, in turn, tells us how and where we can make the most meaningful impact. Working with our business intelligence team can also identify sell-through opportunities and shape strategic outcomes for clients looking to increase sales within a specific category.”

Ultimately, the objective is to have the right stock in the right place at the right time. Using data to set stock weights instore increases the productivity of a brand’s inventory to help maximise sales.  Field marketing representatives can tailor a brand’s range to a store’s local conditions by analysing inventory figures on a weekly basis. This flexibility can be based on changing requirements, such as the weather, current promotional activity or simply adjusting stock for stores that are underperforming.

“To ensure our clients have a good understanding of what’s happing at store level we also report on product gaps,” adds Gardiner. “This highlights how many out of stocks there were when our team entered the store, how many gaps they were able to close during their visit, and the reasons for any discrepancies.

“Suppliers looking to gain further detail about a market sector or competitor can implement an even deeper data insights program using a covert data collection and mystery shopping campaign. When used in conjunction with other reporting insights, retailers can benefit from strategies that inform product ranging, pricing and promotions.”

Data has quickly become one of the most powerful tools at a firm’s disposal, but how the data is used is key. Engaging a retail specialist who knows how to analyse the information and develop instore marketing programs accordingly, can be the most valuable investment a company can make.

For more information about how business intelligence and data insights can help hardware brands manage their instore presence, using strategic field marketing tactics, contact Paul directly via email on paul.gardiner@crossmark.com.au or on 0412 322 006.