Data Key to Wal-Mart's Grasp of Consumers

While Wal-Mart Stores has always been noted for leveraging sales data to drive efficiencies in its supply chain, the world's largest retailer is putting an increasing emphasis on analyzing consumer data to gain a better understanding of shoppers, according to Rollin Ford, the company's executive vice president and chief information officer. Of particular interest to Wal-Mart is the female

SAN ANTONIO — While Wal-Mart Stores has always been noted for leveraging sales data to drive efficiencies in its supply chain, the world's largest retailer is putting an increasing emphasis on analyzing consumer data to gain a better understanding of shoppers, according to Rollin Ford, the company's executive vice president and chief information officer.

Of particular interest to Wal-Mart is the female shopper. “New technology will enable us to mine and extract intelligence from data to anticipate what she expects and needs on a daily basis,” said Ford in a presentation here last week kicking off U Connect 2010, the annual conference held by GS1 US and VICS. “Data is more important than ever before.”

Though Wal-Mart has never offered a loyalty card program allowing it to identify the purchases of specific shoppers, Ford suggested that Wal-Mart's analysis of shopper data can uncover detailed information about them. “By analyzing customer data,” he said, “companies are able to identify who customers really are, determine their most valuable customers and figure out those customers who respond to certain products and promotions.”

Ford, who has spent 27 years at Wal-Mart, including the last four as CIO, also pointed out ways Wal-Mart is helping lower-income shoppers get through hard economic times. In certain countries and markets, he said, the company's data indicates that shoppers have a particularly hard time at the end of the month. “We have some countries around the world where we offer different pack sizes by time of month because of the paycheck cycle,” he said. For example, he added, “there are markets where we offer individual diapers because large packs are not affordable during certain times of the month.”

Ford also pointed to the ubiquity of personal technology throughout the world. “Our consumers are connected to their personal networks and desire a seamless integration between all choices — cell phone, brick and mortar, and Internet,” he said. Even in emerging markets where literacy and access is low, the Internet and the cell phone have become prevalent, he noted.

“I was recently in an emerging market and witnessed an [illiterate] individual who needed a plumber simply state ‘plumber’ into the phone, and pulled up the plumbers within a 30-mile radius,” Ford said.