The Problem with Data Lag in Retail
Strong data is necessary for the level of analytics required by retail businesses, from fashion and beauty to consumer goods, health and beyond. The better the data, the better the understanding of the business — and in an industry governed by new legislation, ever-increasing competition and customer demand, business data couldn’t be more critical.
The majority (63%) of CEOs in the Fall 2022 Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey identified accelerating intelligent insights as the top way to help differentiate their organization and increase competitiveness in the marketplace. It’s clear that most organizations today understand the importance of data and have already begun ramping up efforts to collect not only more of it but also of better quality. However, something often overlooked is how the speed at which it’s acquired impacts the data’s overall quality.
“Real-time data” and “nowcasting” have been part of business vocabulary for years, with the growing emphasis on aligning the frequency of data supply with the frequency of data-led decision-making. But the big problem is that organizations are finding it challenging to acquire actual real-time data. Many data collection periods lapse from weeks and months to quarters and even years.
Problems with Data-Lag in Retail
There are no limits to the business problems that a lapse in data can cause, but here are the top four when it comes to the potential for having the most negative impact on retailers.
Lack of solid data as a business foundation
Reliable data equals a reliable business foundation, however retailers often lack some of the foundational elements that form the basis of gaining valuable data-driven insights in good time, such as a framework of well-defined methodologies and processes, a dedicated budget, talent that provides the necessary skills and experience, a defined set of data quality standards and an appropriate data infrastructure. While the collected data might have been correct at some point, it might be outdated or not representative of the time period decision makers are looking at. Failing to gain access to very current or, ideally, real-time data leads businesses to make decisions based on old news. In short, any data-driven decisions — including bigger and more foundational decisions — can often be moot at the point of execution.
Sluggishness from data silos
Data silos consist of stored data that is not available to the entire organization, but only to some departments, teams or even individual employees. While making certain information only available to specific employees that work with the data can be intentional (the “need to know” principle for sensitive data, for example), data silos usually develop unintentionally.
“Employees might be working on a private server without sharing data on the cloud, making information inaccessible to other employees or creating different versions of data sheets that never end up in use.”
– Lisa Branz, Data Scientist at Vaayu.
Lisa continued, “However, making data-driven decisions requires that this operational data is up-to-date, consistent and centrally available on a daily basis — for example, data warehouses ensure the real-time integration and accessibility of data across the organization. Technologies like this help to reduce the siloing of data and allows teams to work with complete, consistent and current data.”
Ineffective business strategies
All business strategies should be based on data, and all good business strategies are usually based on good data. Without up-to-date and granular data, strategies become less about realistic and ambitious goal setting and more about nice-to-haves and box-checking — they typically prove to be, in essence, rather unactionable. However, a detailed and data-driven plan with new, relevant insights helps all businesses, including retailers, to start making decisions based on foresight instead of hindsight. This type of strategy empowers those who can make changes and helps drive action.
Times move on in an industry that evolves quickly
Just as retail trends come and go, so too does the timing of effective, data-driven business decisions. There is a small window where acting on a business insight can drive change. “Without having access to daily trading reports, retailers wouldn’t be able to make their best-sellers because they simply wouldn’t realize that that’s what they are. Apply this simplified case to the sheer scale of the industry today, and there lies the importance of accurate, live retail data. Whether it be insights about product sales, e-commerce deliveries or operations, you can only make effective improvements when you have timely insights.” says Kate Wakeling, Fashion Lead at Vaayu. “Good sustainability decisions also rely on the most up-to-date data. Knowing your carbon data months or even a year later is not helpful as the market speeds up. But at Vaayu, by putting real-time data at the fingertips of our partners, it can influence savvy decisions that cut carbon sooner.” In short, monthly, quarterly and yearly data are of little significance to the rapidly changing retail sector.
Real-Time Data in Action
At Vaayu, our area of expertise is automated carbon calculation in retail. We use proprietary AI and machine learning technology to produce the most accurate calculations that refresh daily: the real real-time.
Take our work with our partner Ace & Tate — a brand globally recognized for its boldly transparent approach to sustainability. They wanted to move from reactive reporting to a more proactive way of working.
“Imagine,” says Femme van Gils, Responsibility Manager at Ace & Tate, “we develop a collection and then a year later, I start reporting, meaning that I’m always running behind.”
“Our responsibility journey started in 2017 when we realized every frame produced, every product shipped and every happy customer comes at an environmental cost. As part of this process — regarding the environmental impact of our business — we needed access to real-time data in order to set ambitious and realistic targets. Vaayu’s automated technology offers us a level of granularity we haven’t been able to achieve before — keeping us sharp and helping us steer reductions.”
Using Vaayu’s proprietary carbon modelling engine, we shared granular product life cycle assessments for several of their iconic frames, analyzing the potential global warming impact from materials to product and shipping. And going forward, our ongoing partnership will provide Ace & Tate with real-time, automated and accurate emissions data from across their supply chain, powering the team to make impactful carbon-cutting decisions across their business and continue to credibly communicate their goals to customers.
“Transparency has always been a part of our DNA,” says Mark de Lange, CEO and Founder of Ace & Tate. With the brand’s goal of keeping sustainability at the heart of what they do, live data will play a crucial role in all of it. “We have been constantly improving and are openly committed to finding the smartest solutions — which led us to Vaayu.”
Talking with Mark de Lange, Founder of Ace & Tate, and Femme van Gils, the brand’s Responsibility Manager.
Insights in the hands of a few data experts and strategists can be powerful, but up-to-date at the fingertips of stakeholders, other decision-makers and customers is genuinely transformational. Particularly at a time when consumers increasingly demand more transparency from retailers.
Data lags prevent retail businesses from understanding their impact, and it’s often too late to course-correct. However, fighting for timely data supercharges progress for retailers within their decision-making processes and beyond.