Retail going real-time: what are the key benefits?

Guest Author - Cate Trotter

Advancements in technology mean that you can have more data about your store and customers at your fingertips than ever before. Capturing it, whether that’s from point of sale, beacons, Wi-Fi, sensors or other sources, is one thing. Finding a way to make sense of all the information and use it in a meaningful fashion is another. 

Find out how effective your store is

There are a lot of companies and tools that can help with data aggregation, but surely the holy grail is being able to capture, analyse and act on this information in real-time. For example knowing how many people are in your store month-on-month is useful in terms of identifying broader trends in customer behaviour, but knowing how many are there right now has huge implications.

If you know the store is busy then you can deploy more staff onto the shop floor to help customers. If you know that long queues are forming you can open more tills. If the store is quiet you can direct staff to replenish stock. You can also get insights into customer behaviour that you can respond to in the here and now. If you see that a lot of customers are entering and then quickly leaving the store maybe something about the layout is putting them off. Maybe you need to change the products that they see first. Maybe the signage isn’t good enough, or maybe the customer can see there are long queues and doesn’t want to wait.

In turn, you can also use real-time data to test how effective your marketing is. Want to try a new shop window display? See in real-time its impact on footfall. How is that sale doing in terms of drawing people in? What about your recent social media campaign? Real-time information makes it much easier to test and experiment with in-store merchandising and to quickly analyse the response. This, in turn, can be used to identify deeper insights into customer wants and preferences, which can lead to more informed and effective strategies.

Real world applications

The scope for applying real-time analytics in retail is pretty broad. In New York, Saks has used RFID technology to streamline its show department. With thousands of lines on display and 5,000 pairs arriving each week, it used to take days for staff to complete inventory manually, by which time the information was already out of date. By placing a RFID barcode on the sole of each sample shoe staff can now quickly scan each one and check it against the inventory data in real-time to identify any missing items.

Sephora has empowered its store leaders by giving them access to the 40 different metrics that it tracks every day and the resulting KPI’s in real-time. This means rather than trying to analyse the data themselves, staff are free to move around the store and tap into the information from mobile devices at any time. As such, they can keep track of exactly where the store is in terms of those indicators.

Meanwhile, Everyman Cinemas has used real-time marketing to promote film showings that are not currently full to nearby passers-by. An hour or two before a non-sold out film is due to show, the company can display that information on digital advertising screens around it, which may encourage people to go. It can also run short-lived 2 for 1 or other offers if desired to entice people in. This enables Everyman Cinema to boost its sales for shows in a very targeted way.

Responding to external elements

You can also use real-time data to drive customers to your store in the first place. Retailers like Debenhams and Superdrug are doing this through OfferMoments’ smart digital advertising screens, which recognise individual customers as they approach and shows them tailored offers. This same technology can be used to help shift excess stock in-store by advertising it directly to its target audience, as opposed to slashing prices.

Likewise, if you know what is happening outside of your store you can also respond to external events as they happen. For example, a glasses company can seamlessly change over its digital advertising to show its sunglasses range when the weather is good. Working with Boldmind, Waitrose has tested smart shelf price tags, which enables the company to put prices up and down instantly in response to events such as weather and demand.

Realising the opportunities

Real-time data gives you context around your customer insights. You can see how external factors like the weather, public holidays, crowds etc impacted traffic, as well as any advertising, marketing or social media campaigns. Ultimately though it enables a better customer experience. The more you know about how your customers interact with your store on a daily basis, the better equipped you are to serve them with better layouts, products, offers and customer service.

The opportunities around real-time data haven’t even been fully realised yet. Imagine a time when you can identify customers as they walk through the door, send that information to a sales assistant and have them offer personalised advice and support. What about digital advertising screens that can see when customers look unhappy and notify sales associates in real-time?

With such a vast array of applications for the data out there, it might just be time for you to explore the benefits of real-time. 

By Cate Trotter, Founder and Head of Trends at Insider Trends, a leading London-based retail futures agency that helps global brands create world-leading and profitable retail spaces. It does this by clarifying what’s coming next in the world of retail, and what clients can do to get ahead of their competitors.

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Walkbase provides a retail analytics solution for improving the impact of marketing on physical stores and personalising in-store shopping experience.