NEW YORK CITY -- The agenda for the National Retail Federation's 102nd Annual Convention and Expo is filled with sessions about analytics, big-data, and the imperative to connect with consumers on multiple channels. And even during sessions that skirt direct references to volume, velocity, and variety, it's clear big-data has captured the imaginations of retailers around the world.
They just don't necessarily call it that.
At this annual four-day gathering -- known in the industry as Retail's BIG Show -- people who sell goods and services try to find ways to make the shopping experience faster, better, and more convenient. It doesn't take a data scientist to understand that the best way to accomplish those goals is by taking advantage of the powerful tools to collect, analyze, and act upon powerful customer data.
Retailers understand the message, even though many of them have a near-impossible time defining big-data or explaining succinctly how it will help their businesses grow. They just want to know what they should be doing to maintain their place in a rapidly changing retail world.
During a luncheon address Sunday, more than 5,000 people packed the main hall to hear how technology has turned the traditional relationship between buyers and sellers upside down.
Jill Puleri, vice president and global industry leader for retail at IBM Global Business Services, said the revolution in retail has already occurred:
Consumers are in control and dictating the terms of the shopping experience daily. They expect to engage with retailers through physical, digital, and mobile means. They compare notes -- even with strangers -- and can champion a brand or deem it passé with a mouse click or a quick tweet.
Think of them as Chief Executive Customers -- and recognize technology is the only way to meet their ever-changing demands.
Through everything from online comments to social media and clickstreams, consumers are leaving a thick trail of digital exhaust, and retailers that take the time to analyze that data will gain nuanced information about their customers.
It's time, Puleri said, to integrate science with the art of retailing.
Erik Qualmam, author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business, left no doubt about the volume of data in play. "Word of mouth has become world of mouth," he quipped. To succeed, retailers have to change the way they do business: They have to learn to listen, interact, and react to drive sales.
Enter analytics. Paul Ross, vice president for product and industry marketing at Alteryx, reiterated a message that every data professional knows. "It's not just about the data. It's about the insight you can gain from it," he told an overflow crowd who turned out to hear how to close the gap between the "customer and the profitable customer with analytics."
Ross urged retailers to find their own "data artisans" -- data scientists with marketing or customer insight expertise. "The excitement about big-data is great, but context is king. The data has to be analyzed in context of market and customer data."
The BIG Show, which has drawn an estimated 27,000 attendees from every US state and 70 countries to the Jacob Javits Convention Center, ends today. In addition to a host of speakers, the show features more than five football fields of exhibit space filled with products from more than 500 exhibitors, including SAS, the sponsor of this site.