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Big Data: What’s in a Name?


Everyone in the retail and CPG business nowadays is talking about Big Data. But there doesn’t seem to be agreement on what exactly Big Data is. The only thing that everyone agrees on is that Big Data is getting bigger. Before long, it will overwhelm us if not brought under control and turned into actionable information.  

To bring order to this chaos and to simplify the matter, I reached out to the leading experts from all corners of the industry. How do they define Big Data in grocery?

Here is Gartner’s definition: “Big Data is information assets with volumes, velocities and/or variety requiring innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight discovery, decision-making and process automation.”

In grocery, the original Big Data consists of the transaction logs generated by the point-of-sale scanning systems. We all know that some retailers have been using this data for decades to make decisions in category management, marketing, and several areas of store operations. When card-based frequent shopper programs emerged, the quality of and possibilities for Big Data increased. Grocers could link transaction log data to specific households. Those retailers with resources and foresight used this new Big Data effectively for targeting purposes. Kroger, with the help of dunnhumby, is the classic example.  

Now let’s move into our digital age. Everything a consumer does during a typical digital day is stored and collected. That includes sending email, posting on Facebook, sending Tweets, writing blogs, surfing the internet, reviewing books, movies, products and stores, and so on. Such unstructured data becomes more Big Data.    

What do grocers do with all of it? Say they are monitoring social media and news of a new product is going viral. That could be a signal to order extra stock to meet high demand for that product and erect special displays in the store. 

Of course, not every grocery retailer is closely monitoring social media for clues that lead to reactionary merchandising decisions. Many don’t have the resources and staff to do so. In fact, not everyone is properly leveraging their loyalty card data. Some grocers have discontinued their loyalty programs lately, and don’t want to deal with this treasure trove of data.  

Meanwhile, grocer’s trading partners, the consumer packaged goods manufacturers, have more resources, but they are struggling to come to grips with Big Data and its potential. According to the Shopper Technology Institute’s 2014 Big Data in Marketing Survey, awareness of the potential of Big Data is high, but action is still tentative. Few companies have an enterprise Big Data strategy in place, and most are simply not ready with rationale, technology or the talent to put it to beneficial use:  

  • Two thirds (68 percent) are still determining the business case for Big Data
  • Only a third (35 percent) measure their Big Data program ROI
  • Fewer than 10 percent have talent acquisition strategies that address Big Data opportunities
  • Just 6 percent have deployed Big Data solutions in consumer marketing.

So what is Big Data? The website lists 32 definitions. Here’s my favorite: “The definition of Big Data? Who cares? It’s what you’re doing with it.”

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