NRF: How I Experienced Analytics in Virtual Reality


Communicating with numbers has always been a challenge in businesses and other organizations, and it's one that's come to the forefront as more are embracing analytics as central to informed decision-making.

But if you show any business user the right visualization, you help that person understand the meaning behind the numbers. That means less time explaining what it means, and enabling faster decision making for today's hyper-paced business environment. It's what everyone wants. Data visualizations have gained sophistication and style over the years. They aren't your father's pie chart or bar chart anymore.

What if you took those visualizations one step further? What if you went not just 3D with them but put them into a virtual reality environment?

That's just what SAS (sponsor of this site) did with a prototype it was showing off at the recent NRF Convention and Expo in New York this week. While other vendors catering to retailers were showing VR for customers to walk through stores, the SAS VR experience was all about providing analytics about the store to business users making decisions.

SAS booth visitors at the NRF show could check out the demo on a big flat screen in the booth, or they could strap on a virtual reality headset to get the full experience.

When I put on the headset in the booth this week, I was dropped into a retail store environment (as opposed to the Minecraft world my sons let me into sometimes). A video game controller let me navigate through the store's aisles, stocked with food items, clothing, and other goods.

Exclamation points in this VR environment indicated alerts issued by the analytics system. Inventory was selling more quickly than expected in one display, and when I clicked in to learn more, I found that there was a significant discount offered that maybe wasn't needed.

The store VR environment could also be overlaid with a heat map of store foot traffic. What's more, the display also showed me where customers fitting certain segments or profiles, such as budget, mainstream, price conscious, or premium, spent their time.

As I "walked" to the clothing part of the store, another visualization provided me with a look at demand versus sales for various sizes of clothing SKUs.

When I headed over to the check out and customer service areas, I saw another exclamation point. Clicking through showed me information about loss control and how one employee had a hugely disproportionate number of returns accepted without receipts.

Over in the major appliance section I could see the location of inventory tracked with RFID tags and the status of that inventory.

Dan Mitchell, director of SAS's Global Retail Practice and a trained cartographer told me in an informal interview that the VR experience also lets you view multiple store locations on a map and get a big picture of how these locations are performing. Then the user can drill down into individual stores for the store experience and more information on the performance of that particular location.

A customer experiences VR analytics in the SAS booth
(Image: All Analytics)

A customer experiences VR analytics in the SAS booth

(Image: All Analytics)

Today the Virtual Reality Experience is still a prototype, Mitchell said.

In that way, it's like many of the newest technologies on display at a big show like NRF. But it represents where the technology may go. In this case, it represents a way for business users to gain another window into the meaning of the insights provided by analytics.

Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps, Informationweek

Jessica Davis has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology at titles including IDG's Infoworld, Ziff Davis Enterprise's eWeek and Channel Insider, and Penton Technology's MSPmentor. She's passionate about the practical use of business intelligence, predictive analytics, and big data for smarter business and a better world. In her spare time she enjoys playing Minecraft and other video games with her sons. She's also a student and performer of improvisational comedy. Follow her on Twitter: @jessicadavis.

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Re: Virtual vs. real-world incentives
  • 1/30/2017 3:05:45 PM
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The VR tool would expecially be more relevant then the VR form factor becomes more wearable in everyday use. Image a store manager, marketing VP or a store designer "walking" through in VR noting where changes could be made or improved based on the views seen.

Re: Virtual vs. real-world incentives
  • 1/29/2017 8:34:29 PM
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@maryam I think the shift will be similar to what we see with streaming TV. Kids today don't have to wait for new episodes of TV shows like we did in the days before streaming. Kids readily accept streaming TV as normal, TV schedules don't apply in the same way. VR may be accepted all the same.

Re: Virtual vs. real-world incentives
  • 1/27/2017 4:16:34 AM
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@Jessica age may be a factor, but when 4K phones become mainstream and high-res VR is only a headmount away, I think people across generations will be more open to it.

Re: Virtual vs. real-world incentives
  • 1/27/2017 4:14:06 AM
NO RATINGS

@rbaz I agree it's too much for a local shop, but big retail chains will find this extremely beneficial.

Re: Virtual vs. real-world incentives
  • 1/27/2017 4:12:54 AM
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@PC It could also mean that the store manager could delegate this part of the work to someone who's working from home. A retail chain's area managers and supply chain managers could also monitor stores better this way and make the necessary adjustments from their end.

Re: Virtual vs. real-world incentives
  • 1/25/2017 5:04:58 PM
NO RATINGS

Great tool! Being there without being there while armed with measurements on command. A bit of overkill for the majority of store fronts in my opinion.

Re: Virtual vs. real-world incentives
  • 1/23/2017 5:11:17 PM
NO RATINGS

The best store managers are great with people and great with numbers. But if someone has both of those skills, they can do any number of other roles in the workplace. More valuable roles.

To me, the real advantage of VR in a retail environment, is that it allows a retail employee who isn't great with numbers to be phenomenally successful running a store location. The VR tool can highlight the problems and issues in a way that many more people can get.

And once the problems are understood, they can be solved. By a store manager who is great  with employees and customers.

Re: Virtual vs. real-world incentives
  • 1/23/2017 1:44:09 PM
NO RATINGS

I think these virtual realities would be a great thing to trial new products or new displays. You can have people at home " visit" the store and see how they like it . This could save a lot of money as well as give better input.

Re: Virtual vs. real-world incentives
  • 1/22/2017 6:28:13 PM
NO RATINGS

I can imagine a day when virtual reality will assist exectutives to be in representations of places with out actually having to go there.  Thus saving on travel and other expenses.  Also virtual reality could allow a manager to see what affect changes to the store would look like with out actually making them. 

 

Re: Virtual vs. real-world incentives
  • 1/20/2017 5:36:51 PM
NO RATINGS

Front-line retail is difficult work. The store manager is a grueling job which requires a combination of skills that probably deserves better pay.

Immersive VR seems to me like an excellent way to make the store manager job a little bit easier. With VR and an element of gamification, managers don't have to be superstars at both people interaction and numbers. Instead, they can have fun working to eliminate red spots, and then yellow spots from their stores.

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