Here’s How Big Data Can Help Retailers Keep Happy Customers

If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine how much you can learn about your customers, and how you can keep them happy.

By Naveen Sharma, Xerox Research Center Webster, New York

Naveen Sharma
Naveen Sharma, chief innovation officer for Retail at Xerox.

Xerox scientists are showing up in unexpected places. For example, imaging and data scientists are developing applications that can help retail stores use the data they already have.

Consumer and retail analytics is a growing segment of Xerox’s big data research and it’s not just the pure data they are after, but the hidden value of the data. Department stores, fast food restaurants and drug store chains want to predict consumer behaviors — for example:

  • Where shoppers tend to linger in the store.
  • How customers interact with merchandise or sales associates.
  • Is it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for?
  • Are your customers happy?

Customer analytics unlocks insights that, when applied, can win new consumers, gain consumer loyalty and help retailers grow revenue. Many in the industry say that without applying this type of data analytics, the information is meaningless. Here’s a look at how imaging and data scientists at Xerox can answer these questions:

The Other Reason for Video Surveillance: Most stores have video surveillance cameras mainly for anti-theft purposes. However, that same video can contain valuable information about consumer habits. Where do customers linger most? How are they interacting with merchandise or staff? Are they happy or not? What can the video tell us about emerging trends? Are they looking for something and not finding it easily?

Reviewing traffic flow patterns could result in re-organizing displays to attract more attention. The result could be more purchases, or new processes that make drive-thru lanes more efficient.

Video also offers up cues to a shopper’s emotional state: Xerox researchers have developed algorithms that can detect and determine a customer’s emotional state. Computer vision software and techniques enable machines to “read” a person’s facial expressions and cues, and determine, for instance, is he happy, frustrated, or angry. It can also track what attracts the most attention. Retailers can use this information to rearrange displays or customer services processes accordingly.

Data fusion uses multiple sources: Social media is a great source of data and information that companies may use to improve customer service. However, many social media listening tools rely on keywords to determine sentiment, which isn’t always accurate.

Our researchers use “data fusion” – the ability to combine data coming from a variety of sources and teach computers to determine the sentiment of a comment accurately. The tool analyzes what is said in the context of the conversation, which means it can detect sarcasm, and understand abbreviated words in a tweet or Facebook post. Our clients can use this tool to get at the data quickly and efficiently, so they can be proactive on what could become negative customer service issues – in some cases reaching out directly to that person before they file a complaint. Large customers with call centers, can use this data to prepare call center employees better.

Naveen Sharma is chief innovation officer for Retail at Xerox. He discusses big data and how companies bring innovative products and services to market: Read this five-part interview on the One Million by One Million Blog.

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  1. Kenneth April 6, 2016 - Reply

    Great article and filed of research.There is certainly lots of un-tapped value out there.
    I am in the HR field and looking for ways to tap on Data analytic functionality to improve employee experiences and create business value… Any suggestions?

    • Gregory Pings April 7, 2016 - Reply

      Kenneth: I’m so glad you found this article, and found some value in it. I will contact some experts in our HR and R&D groups and ask them to respond to your comment. In the meantime, I think you’ll find some worthy articles in Xerox’s HR Insights blog. Check out the “Engagement” category.


  2. Sarah Thompson April 9, 2016 - Reply

    Kenneth – great consideration! As you suggest, you want to ensure you have a way of proving the impact to business objectives, through the use of big data.
    In the field of HR there are lots of ways we can leverage big data to move the needle and over the long term reduce costs or increase revenue. Below are a few ideas:
    1. Performance – Ongoing feedback. Why wait for the annual performance review to assess how an employee is performing? Use big data as a way of capturing feedback regularly, for example shortly following a client meeting, or after a common daily task. You can capture 2-3 critical elements, such as did they perform the first 3 steps correctly or did they listen effectively. You may want to capture from multiple peers throughout a month or over several weeks. This begins to multiply the amount of data you collect from the 18-20 points on a performance review to hundreds of data points over the year. Multiply by the total number of employees and this does become a big data scenario.
    2. Learning – Tool or site usage, you may want to capture some clicks being done by exemplary performance and others. Then, you can compare: where is the exemplary performer going to successfully handle specific tasks? What support tools are they using? This helps to establish a critical baseline for where you want all performers going during the course of the day. Given that learning is moving to short-form content, in a variety of delivery formats, this starts to become a larger scenario to manage, as the data point to collect grow.
    There are some tools that already trap what your learner audience is doing, actively throughout the day. As you begin to ensure you are impacting business objectives, you may even consider if an employee’s participation in any specific learning program, access to a specific thread on a community of practice (social), or viewing a short-form video helps to reduce errors in data input.
    3. Benefits – Guidance and triggers. You can use big data to evaluate how the employee is using the benefits hub: are they using it to schedule reminders for their annual physical or dentist appointments? Are they loading in helpful information to track their personal benefits, such as flex accounts? You have to extrapolate then, to those who are taking ‘healthier’ steps and those employees who might need nudged or reminded more often. In general, it is more likely that those who are taking active steps to be healthier, hopefully, will be out sick less than those who are not.

  3. […] week a reader commented on the Simplify Work blog post on how retailers can use big data. He asked, “I am in the HR field and looking for ways to tap on […]

  4. Steven Laird April 12, 2016 - Reply

    Kenneth, we’ve posted a response over at HR Insights:

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