Asda’s parent company, Walmart, is a big believer in using data to improve the customer journey, but without a loyalty card programme gathering customer data isn’t the easiest task.

Asda’s data team, headed by Liz Lamb, senior director for insight, data, CRM and customer experience, is tasked with analysing data points from across the business – in store and online – to create a view of the customer to improve the shopping journey and experience.

“But if it’s not accessible or understood by the business, it’s useless,” says Lamb, speaking at a KX event in Leeds, earlier this week. “We need to collaborate to get all the experts around the table to truly understand the 360-degree view of the customer.”

Lamb says the retailer’s attitude towards data always centres on the customer. “If it isn’t driving change on behalf of the customer – saving time and saving money – it’s worthless, we need to have a rethink or go home.”

She adds: “There’s never a more critical time to understand customers and what they need from us. And the power lies in doing the right thing for the customer. As we get more and more data into the business, the potential is there to do more with it, but just because we can doesn’t mean we should – it has to unlock value for the customer.”

Lamb describes how Asda takes data very seriously and this only happens because both the outgoing and incoming CEOs – Sean Clarke and Roger Burnley – are advocates of using data to drive change and improve customer experience, optimise processes and create new products and services.

Learnings from across the pond

Also speaking at KX’s event was Ed Child, head of data science at Asda. He described how he spent the last two years seconded at Walmart’s headquarters in Arkansas in the US, learning how Asda’s parent company uses data to innovate within the business.

Founded in 1962, the retail giant makes over 145 million transactions from its 4,500 stores every week and its average superstore sells over 140,000 items, leading to an annual turnover of nearly half a trillion dollars.

“Walmart is constantly evolving and innovating, but there’s this pesky business called Amazon,” explains Child. “Walmart’s model [differs from Asda] because it has so many big stores and the range is much bigger with customers on lots more different shopping missions – but the number one competitor is Amazon, it’s not interested in anyone else.”

One way Walmart has tried to compete with Amazon is by buying Jet.com last year for $3 billion. Along with its innovative pricing model came its founder Marc Lore who is now CEO of eCommerce and Jet for Walmart. “If anyone is going to take on Amazon, it’s that guy right there,” says Child.

While Amazon has been gaining the column inches for creating physical products like Echo and Dash, not forgetting the acquisition of Whole Foods and launch of Amazon Go, Walmart has also been heavily investing in innovation.

Walmart Pay first appeared on the scene in 2015, built around a QR code for instant in-store payment and e-receipts. The retailer has also been concentrating on improving fulfilment, with the launch of automated grocery pick-up from 1,100 locations with plans to add a further 1,000 next year, as well as trials of a 24-hour automated pod.

The retailer is also up-front with customers about the costs surrounding online delivery, deciding to put the power back into their hands by offering a discount for in-store pick up of online orders.

“It becomes interesting to drive footfall to the store and pass on the $7 saving, pushing that power back to the consumer,” says Child.

Translating Asda’s big data

“Translating this over to Asda, the challenge for us is in data science and how we translate all this complex big data.”

Child says Asda collates 300 million data points every week, 19 million of which are in-store transactions.

“That’s pretty terrifying, but it gives us a fascinating opportunity,” he says.

While he explains that his team of 14 has to work much harder to join up the dots without the benefit of a loyalty card scheme, Childs says the launch of its in-store Scan and Go product, which is being trialled in 75 stores, has opened up another avenue for customer data.

“The insight team is doing a good job at tying together lots of different types of data to tell a story,” he says. “We want to know what does Scan and Go mean for the consumers, so the data science team is crunching that [data] to find out what it means for customer behaviour in the long run.”

Child says the team analyses how often the customer shops using Scan and Go and how many repeat customers use the technology, and cross-references that data with other store-based measures. Once that data is analysed it is passed on to CRM and marketing to ensure the retailer is engaging with its customers.

“I’ve been working in grocery retail for ten years now, and data is a rapidly changing technology – every day is a new adventure because everything is changing right now.