Commentary

The Big Data Are Here, The Big Data Are Here -- Especially In Retail

The data show that data is paramount in today’s retail environment, both online and off. That's the key message gleaned from Shoptalk’s fifth retail trade conference.

“Gone are the days when ‘big data’ was a mythological creature. It is now the new norm within businesses across retail, and obscene amounts of data are being produced every second. The amount of data produced will only increase exponentially with 5G and the Internet of Things. It’s clear humans are no longer capable of digesting all of this information on our own -- cue machine learning and artificial intelligence,” observes Neil Stern in Forbes after observing his share of the 286 speakers and more than 100 sessions at the gathering last week at the Venetian in Las Vegas.

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“The message came through loud and clear: Expect more stores to incorporate the kind of digital data collection that has powered the online world,” writes Sapna Maheshwari for the New York Times.

Helena Foulkes, the CEO of Hudson’s Bay, which owns Saks and Lord & Taylor, “said she anticipated that years from now, stores would be able to immediately know customers’ identities and personal preferences when they arrived, thanks to data collection. That knowledge, she said, will be used to make their shopping experiences easier,” Maheshwari reports.

“You can’t out-Amazon Amazon,” Foulkes said at a conference event held by Recode. “We’re never going to be the best pure-play retailer. What we have to do is marry digital tools with our store experience.”

Walmart, for one, has known that for some time --and is doing something about it.

“How fast and how easily products can be acquired from a brand are now as important to differentiation as any logo, any price point, or any given product itself,” points out Chris Walton in Forbes. “The importance of this new normal was nowhere on display better than during Walmart’s presentation on Tuesday. As painful as it is to say it, Walmart was the best thing at the show all week.”

Walton reports that Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of digital operations at Walmart, “discussed how Walmart’s buy online, pickup in-store capabilities are just the beginning, how customers demand more from Walmart, and that the right next frontier is automation. Automation first in the form of their partnership with Alert Innovation, with whom they are building an automated micro-warehouse to pick and to pack online grocery orders in New Hampshire, and second, longer-term, in the form of examining autonomous vehicles for delivery.”

“Just like apparel brands are looking to leverage technology to improve the brick-and-mortar store experience, convenience stores like 7-Eleven are hoping to also create seamless experiences. The difference is that in a store like Macy’s, consumers are encouraged to linger; at grocery stores, they want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Convenience stores are exploring scan-and-go and digital app options to upgrade the process for shoppers, ” writes Adrianne Pasquarelli for Ad Age.

Data is “the new oil,” Dan Gallagher tells us this morning in the Wall Street Journal. “As the most recent round of earnings reports made clear, Big Tech had a record year of capital spending in 2018. Google-parent Alphabet alone saw its capital bill surge 91% from the year before to $25.1 billion. In a report Thursday, Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson noted that this made the Internet giant the largest spender in the S&P 500, even outranking asset-heavy businesses like oil giant Exxon Mobil.”

“For Google and its big tech counterparts, most of this spending goes toward the state-of-the-art data centers used to power their services. It’s an expensive endeavor. Combined capital spending by Google, Amazon, com, Microsoft and Facebook totaled  $77.7 billion in 2018 -- more than the $71.5 billion spent by the world’s four largest oil majors,” Gallagher concludes.

Data collection is a 24/7 endeavor for Google, in fact. 

“Overall, I found that a major part of Google’s data collection occurs while a user is not directly engaged with any of its products,” says Vanderbilt University professor of engineering Douglas C. Schmidt, who last year published a study of  Google’s data collection practices under a “day in the life” scenario of an Android phone user. 

“Google may not know whether you’ve been bad or good but it knows when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake. If you use an Android device with the Chrome browser running, the tech giant knows whether you are traveling by foot or car, where you shop, how often you use your Starbucks app and when you’ve made a doctor’s appointment,” according to a post about the 55-page study on the Vanderbilt School of Engineering blog.

But does anybody believe Google really doesn’t know if you’ve been bad or good?

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