Many Australian retailers have reported stellar financial results in recent weeks, largely driven by consumers diverting cash from overseas travel to home improvements, and white-collar professional, CBD workers kitting out a new workspace in the family home in light of the shift to work from home. 

However, there is one resource that many retailers may have overlooked that could help them navigate a possible slowdown in this spike in retail spend in 2021. That resource is data. Of course, data is not a new concept for the retail industry. However, until now, many have failed to take full advantage of the data that lives across their online and offline estate.

The retail challenges of COVID-19

As the vaccination roll-out begins, weaknesses will begin to appear in the recovery strategies that retailers are rolling out to weather this storm.

To suggest survival depends solely on an online presence would be remiss. In fact, pre-Covid, many traditional retailers had already leapt to eCommerce – rolling out websites with great customer experiences and shoppable social media channels. While these retailers may have built vital online touchpoints for consumers, the failure to connect the two worlds of online and offline has often led to missed sales opportunities, predominantly through siloed data, abandoned shopping carts and out-of-stock items.

Supply chain agility is another area that has shown itself to be critical in the recovery for Australia’s retailers. Unfortunately, it was also a largely overlooked area pre-pandemic. Throughout the crisis, we saw transient shifts in demand, through the vast toilet roll shortages and more fundamental shifts like the boom in demand for bicycles. Retailers struggled to meet the radical change in demand and changing consumer behaviour. This demonstrated that retailers not only need to be resilient to shifting customer demand but also unforeseen disruption to the supply chain, to ensure accurate stock levels and facilitate dynamic pricing. For this, data is needed.

Why data is the answer  

The retail industry has long neglected the need for a strong data-driven strategy – despite investments in business intelligence and data-guided decision making. Reaching and retaining customers is a more significant challenge than ever before, and data has suddenly become the high street retailers’ unexpected ally. When utilised correctly, data-driven insights can provide retailers with clear guidance for business success, even during tough times.

Valuable data is hidden in places across a retailers’ entire organisation – online and off. Only when a retailer can paint a full picture with both data sets can they can begin to tackle the many challenges facing them. For example, real-time data on online browsing and in-store shopping patterns can help direct any changes needed to the supply chain and allow for dynamic pricing.

Yet, for a data-driven strategy to reach its full potential, data must be considered trustworthy. 

The five T’s of trustworthy data

Trusted data can be defined by five key criteria – thoroughness, transparency, timeliness, traceability and tested.

If data is transparent, it is accessible and understandable by everyone, from the boardroom to in-store. This means businesses avoid nasty delays to decision making, as everyone in the organisation is data literate.

Data must also be timely. During the toilet paper saga, the public’s attitude towards the pandemic changed daily, with fear growing each day. If retailers are making decisions based on anything other than real-time data, they will be vastly out of loop with customers’ shopping patterns. To ensure trust, decisions must be based on real-time data insights.

To be trusted, data also needs to be thorough, including data from the whole organisation, with traceable sources, and tested, with collaborative feedback used to provide data ratings.

While many retailers may think ensuring every data element is trustworthy, given the sheer volumes of data now on hand, this appears to be an impossible task. However, this is not the case, and they, too, can achieve data clarity.  

The tools for trust

A successful data-driven strategy should include a single platform that provides data trust from the outset – accounting for all the criteria outlined above. Through providing a single source of truth for all data, capturing and integrating data from millions of data points daily, retailers will be able to make fast and accurate business decisions, giving them the edge they need to survive the uncertain and changing times. It should offer simple and easy to consumer data ratings that any business stakeholders can understand.

As retailers brace themselves for the post-COVID new normal, data shapes up to be their most important ally. Yet, to truly make the most of it, retailers must find trust in their data by ensuring they have the right platforms in place to offer reassurance across the business. Only once a retailer has embraced this will they really see the true value that data can bring in the face of new challenges. Luckily, this is achievable… today.

Mark Fazackerley is regional vice president for Australia and New Zealand at Talend.