RBTE 2015: Asda manages expectations of big data

Big data is opening up myriad opportunities for retailers but managing what actual information is collected and utilising it most effectively to gain business benefits is crucial, according to head of customer data & marketing effectiveness at Asda, Ed Child.

Speaking at RBTE 2015, Child warned that it is easy to collect everything and to devise complex data strategies but progress should only be made if it obviously improves things for the customer.

"We've got to keep things simple. We've come up with complex plans because we can. But should we do it? People think there is a need to do complex things but you'd miss the low-hanging fruit. It really has to be strategically important [for us to do it]," he explained.

Child detailed how Asda began creating a single customer view (SCV) seven years ago and that it is now made up of many inputs that show how customers shop across all parts of its business.

"Asda understands there is more value in bringing this data together – consisting of store sales data, online, social media communications, and mobile usage. It's absolutely about bringing it together but we need to be careful and sensible with it," he commented.

The key is to ensure that the data delivers decisions that prompt actions. Where the company has not been able to ensure this it has not integrated those data sources into its big data repository and SCV.

Child said the grocer is also wary in how it communicates with customers, admitting that 95% is via email whereas he acknowledges there are many other routes that could be used. Hence its experimentation with communicating via Facebook and potentially using the Asda app to deliver push notifications. He also pointed to pop-up message boxes and header strips online as other alternatives to engage customers.

While this all takes place he is fully aware of how it adds more complexity and he said Asda's existing CRM programme with 50 triggers each day purely for email communication represents a challenge to handle: "How do you manage all this tactical activity through a business the size of Asda. Nobody has cracked it but we're trying hard."

As well as making such choices, Child said one of the big challenges with big data is "empowering the rest of the organisation by giving them access to it". Over the past year he has been working on this through the likes of visualisation and geographic mapping.