A century ago, retail chain founder John Wanamaker famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Today, accurate data to drive a retailer’s business remains a challenge. The difference from Wanamaker’s day is that retailers are not suffering from a lack of data, but rather from an inability to identify the data that will make a difference in the business today. Reports that have a backward view of last year’s results don’t supply the up-to-the minute information they need to make a decision today. Roll-out reports attempt to standardize information from multiple databases, but are not perfect, and drill-down reports often can’t go far enough. Occasionally retailers have “made do” with their technology investment until it is groaning under the weight of reporting and analyzing data; accounting and other departments have been known to do manual reporting from the data to address the disconnect between what the system can do and what the organization needs. Additionally, with the proliferation of smart phones, tablets and the like, some decision-makers craft their own reports to help them make decisions that have a direct impact on the organization’s bottom line. Analysts indicate that retailers will invest in big data in 2012, but it is not simply to create more data; rather, the investments will be geared toward making sense of the massive amounts of data they’ve already collected in an effort to have the right information they need at their fingertips to make both day-to-day and game-changing decisions.
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