Domopalooza 2017: Data Helps Transform Merchandising from Gut Feeling to Nimble Reaction

Salt Lake City—For the bulk of retail history, merchandising was simple: a buyer saw something that looked like it might sell, put it in a store, and waited for a customer to purchase it.

Real-time data has changed all that, said Lisa Roath, Vice President of Merchandising Transformation for Target.

“Back in the day, merchandising as based on gut feel,” she said. “It’s interesting to see it become more decentralized across the whole organization. It’s been fun to watch data really democratize the relationships across Target. C-suite leaders want to talk to the people who can help them.”

In Target’s case, one of those people is Ben Schein, Director of Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics. Schein and his team have utilized data to see what shoppers really go for—and then adjust accordingly. On big events like Black Friday, factors like weather data can be taken into consideration to help stores be more prepared by the size of the crowds and when they’ll likely be the strongest, he said, and having the data of how their predictions panned out helps them craft the process even further. It works on smaller scales, too, he said.

“Because we’re loading every item transaction for the current day—what you might call ‘security blanket’ reporting—we can see like on St. Patrick’s Day we did really well with cabbage and shamrock cookies and things,” Schein said, noting that stores can react more quickly to what’s hot in a per-store and even per-department basis in real time, rather than having to wait for the data to roll in later. “It lowers the threshold of when we’re actually going to do something [because of the data].”

Schein and Roath spoke at Domopalooza, being held Wednesday and Thursday at the Grand America and Little America hotels. Target was an early adopter of Domo—its CEO is one of the top users in the world.

Roath said the transition to working with such precise and immediate data is changing the way Target does business.

“I am leading something that will overhaul our processes and roles and technology, and at the heart of that is something that will be transformative,” she said.

Part of the advantage is that by having that precise data, and having it in one place and accessible from people at all rungs of the corporate ladder, the time it used to take comparing and correlating multiple reports is saved, she said. That universal source of information also means that someone on the bottom could find an insight that those closer to the top might have missed, she said.

“When I think of the change moment we’re going through, I think it’s coming tops down and bottoms up at the same time,” she said. “You’ve got the C-suite with heavy, heavy engagement, and then you have these groups coming up through the organization in different pockets that get it. When we get the two to meet up, that’s where it really happens. … That’s a really powerful unifying force at Target.”