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Retail Insight: Analytics changing retail game

story and photo by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Mark Collin of London-based Retail Insight is among a new generation of retail suppliers to call Bentonvillle home.

A small corporate apartment near Wal-Mart’s main office is his domicile on this side of the pond roughly 80% of the time, he said. And he manages to get back to his native Winchester, England, for a week or two, every few months.

Armed with a master’s degree in mathematics and problem solving, Collin, 24, is part of a two-man supplier team for his company’s Wal-Mart U.S. business.

Collin said he signed on with Retail Insight Co. fresh out the University of Birmingham – England that is – and was quickly brought up to speed on the IT basics of writing program codes. Retail Insight specializes in helping retail operators see measurable improvements in such metrics as sales strategy, distribution, availability, promotional performance and business planning.

Collin said his firm was first introduced to Wal-Mart through the Asda relationship a few years ago. In the last couple of years the business relationship with Wal-Mart has grown enough to warrant a small team of analysts on the ground in Bentonville.

“I was delighted to be chosen for this job and Bentonville is so different that I imagined. The folks are really friendly and go way beyond, in terms of service,” Collin said,

In the short time he’s been here, Collin says he’s taken several float trips, had some great hikes and seen a few Natural’s games, but he’s still waiting to call those Hogs at an Arkansas Razorback game.

His parents came to visit from Winchester a few weeks back, and Collin says they took an 1,800 mile road trip seeing Crystal Bridges and the Clinton Library before going on to St.Louis. They came back to Graceland in Memphis and his parents went on to New Orleans while he returned to work in Bentonville.

THE JOB
Collin and Jacob Hips – the other half of the local duo – spend a great deal of time with retail giant in data analysis.

“Jacob studied economics in London, but he’s actually a New Yorker, so he was a logical fit for the our two-man team in the U.S.” Collin said.

Retailers, large and small, have a vast amount of data they collect with regard to their operations. His firm helps their retail clients to analyze those data sets to solve questions and drive better performance at every level along the supply chain.

Retail Insights employs roughly 60 data specialists, and most are based in the U.K. The firm has developers who come up with new analytical products, project managers who lead the deployment of those products into retail world and then analysts like Collin, who help support the systems once a retailer is using them.

The work varies widely among the customer base and the firm works with several retailers in the U.S. and abroad.

Just for example, one week they might be asked to find ways to increase the efficiency for on-the-shelf availability for fast moving consumer products. And the next week it might be helping a retailer find the best metric to rate the overall performance for one or several individual stores.

At the end of the day, Collin said, Retail Insight is out to help all of its customers run more efficiently by offering quick analysis that leads to a fatter bottomline.

NEXT GENERATION
He says the tech revolution is having a profound impact on how retailers will operate in the next few years.

Duncan McNaughton, Wal-Mart’s own chief merchandising officer for U.S. stores, said recently the speed at which technology is revamping the entire retail landscape is astounding. He said the disruptive change is having a profound impact for retailers willing to embrace the holistic conversion of multi-channel operations.

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Collin agreed that integrating e-commerce/ mobile into brick and mortar operations and then applying the social media element gives retailers incredible insight into consumer behavior and attitudes.

When asked if a retailer could ever know too much about its customers, Collin said, "No."

“Because it’s precisely that level of knowledge what would allow retailers to subtly lead the consumers in the direction of more purchases,” he said.

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