Retail can be a cut-throat business, with fine margins and huge competitive forces at play, both at a local and international level. The retailers that secure customer loyalty, strip out costs and apply genuine intelligence to their business models are inevitably best placed to win the race.
Retail technology specialist WorldSmart integrates point of sale (POS), loyalty and business intelligence and digital marketing to create comprehensive retail solutions – delivering unique insights in the end-to-end retail data chain.
Already the largest POS technology provider to independent grocery retailers in Australia, WorldSmart is now experiencing growing demand for its loyalty and business intelligence solutions.
Analysing retail data using purpose-built business intelligence solutions and machine learning provides granular insights to support everyone from the sales assistant on the shop floor to the CEO, and provides the foundation for tailored marketing campaigns focused on individual customers.
WorldSmart’s data analytics and digital marketing platforms help create targeted campaigns and can also measure their effectiveness or attribution. It’s a process that can take up to three months – but the migration to Microsoft SQL Server 2016 has seen that time plunge to eight seconds, providing near real-time shopper insights for both retailers and advertisers.
Samuel Pons, Managing Director of WorldSmart, says leveraging Microsoft’s technology stack delivers retailers a seamless solution, and allows WorldSmart to focus on analytics and insights rather than worrying about technical functions.
A former head of transformation for News Corp and Elders, Pons has an acute understanding of the transformative power of data when it’s applied intelligently. And that applies equally to large and small businesses, says Pons, who believes digital disruption is a “great equaliser”.
Today, 65 per cent of transactions in the $9 billion independent grocery market are processed through WorldSmart’s POS solutions. The sector is now recognising how analytics and digital marketing can drive revenue.
One of WorldSmart’s flagship customers who are independent owners of supermarkets under the IGA banner. These customers use integrated POS, labour and operational data to improve decision-making, spanning from the shop floor to the owner or CEO.
Marco, Nick and Nektarios Nikitaras run the fast-growing Hill Street Grocer, an IGA franchise in Tasmania. Formerly a bricklayer, lawyer and spray painter, the brothers make for a somewhat unlikely trio in the grocery business.
But their passion for gourmet food has seen Hill Street Grocer become one of Tasmania’s leading food retailers, and in 2015 they expanded quickly from two stores to eight stores.
However, that rapid expansion brought a series of challenges – not least managing the disparate information sources which are essential to understanding how the business is performing. To ensure the success of their expansion, the brothers embraced a business intelligence tool developed by WorldSmart. The system uses Microsoft SQL Server 2016 to combine and process multiple sources of information.
Power BI allows the Nikitaras brothers to perform store-by-store comparisons, but it also democratises the data as it is provided back to the stores to empower their managers and staff.
The finance and management teams can monitor budgets and sales targets, looking at past and present information in real time. The tool allows them to filter the information how and when they want.
Store teams are also becoming more agile; Bureau of Meteorology data allows them to forecast and monitor the impact of weather on sales and adjust in-store strategies and stock on the fly.
This detailed understanding of the business, and the ability to adjust operations in real time, has given Hill Street Grocer a distinct commercial edge and supported the business’s growth trajectory.
Building a retail platform for the future
To be successful, businesses need access to a technology suite that provides broad functionality without the technical burden of having to manage a wide range of technology. “This is why we chose the Microsoft Power BI, Azure and SQL Server 2016. The fact that all the technologies work together so well means that we can divert more resources to activities that bring value,” says Pons.
IGA has more than 200 stores operating on the Microsoft-supported platform, providing near real-time operational and analytical services for more than 2,000 users.
WorldSmart is using Azure Stream Analytics and R Server to drive several of its machine-learning forecasts and analysis. Power BI was a logical choice for the company as a presentation layer, helping reduce the technical burden.
In terms of functionality, it was important there was only one tool that could accommodate both novice and executive users. This one tool manages everything from the simple presentation of data and minor interrogation to supporting the technical lead, who would act as the local champion and develop analysis locally.
The nature of its business means WorldSmart has unpredictable processor and memory demand and for the company Azure was a more cost effective and secure. “We handle a significant amount of personal data and in the future may handle sensitive data and need to provide security that exceeds PCI/DSS [Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard] levels. With the new built in capability in SQL Server 2016 and Azure we exceed the standards. It also means that we do not have to invest as significantly in the security infrastructure as much as in Amazon Web Services.”
Looking to the future
WorldSmart will soon be using Azure facial recognition to drive in-store demographic-based advertising, so that shoppers get the right advertisement for them at the point of decision – increasing the chances of them buying the item by 82 per cent. The company is also capturing emotional response and dwell-time data in order to measure the quality of the creative content and provide quantitative feedback to the advertiser.
WorldSmart will continue to develop its BI offering, incorporating more bots to drive marketing outcomes; look to other lines of revenue, via Microsoft Azure Marketplace; and take its POS to the cloud, to support low-cost entry to other retail segments and assist in deploying the solutions internationally.