Magazine Article | July 1, 2002

Turn Reams Of Data Into Profits

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Eleven-billion-dollar Staples uses business intelligence to predict how customers interact among all channels. How well do you know your customers?

Integrated Solutions, July 2002

Whether you're a midsized manufacturer or a large office supply retailer like Staples, Inc. (Framingham, MA), how well you know your customers can mean the difference between laying off workers and continuing to grow. This is especially important if you offer your customers multiple ways to contact your business and order your products. Each channel may not be as user-friendly as you would like to think.

"We're interested in how customers migrate from one channel to another or how they combine the channels to get what they need," says Win Fuller, director of marketing analysis for Staples. "If a particular ad or circular didn't work for us in Boise, ID, for instance, we need to know why, and we need to know right away." Also, if Staples finds that a certain demographic of customers is ordering less paper from its Web site than previously, it needs to be able to pinpoint reasons for the decline that may be within its control to fix. With three active sales channels, including storefront, online, and catalog, assembling a comprehensive marketing strategy can be very challenging.

Predicting Business Success
Staples chose SAS (Cary, NC) for its business intelligence needs. SAS' solution offered the retailer a few options that no other vendor could provide. "Our data is stored in disparate applications that run on disparate operating systems," says Fuller. "We have Oracle and DB2 databases running on UNIX, Excel files that run on PCs, and other programs that run on a SQL server." Many of the business intelligence packages that Staples looked into required costly integration to make the various systems work together. With the SAS solution, on the other hand, it seamlessly moves from system to system without requiring customization programming.

Another reason that Staples chose SAS' business intelligence tools was because of its ease of use. "Some systems require high-end IT people to create reports and pull data from certain sources," says Fuller. "With the SAS solution, our nontechnical people, such as sales and marketing personnel, can set up relationships among our applications and databases and build reports themselves.

One of the reports that Staples performs is daily sales forecasts for each of its 1,400 stores. These sales forecasts feed the marketing cycle by contributing to decisions about advertising and promotion, the lifeblood of any retailer. For this worldwide organization to remain successful it has to target its promotions and predict its customers' behavior with high accuracy.