Simplifying Merchandising & Planning Operational Decision Making With AI

Over the past year, retailers and distributors have faced huge challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Supply chains have been disrupted and workforces have been reduced. Customers have shifted massively to purchasing online rather than in-store, and businesses have been forced to adjust their practices accordingly. CrowdANALYTIX has already created a solution that allows retailers and distributors to scale their businesses quickly and easily so that they can compete in this changed — and continually changing — market. DataX simplifies and speeds the product data onboarding process so that large and small sellers are able to grow and sync their catalogs constantly without wasting time or money.

But merchants and operators in retail and distribution settings all face a challenge that existed even before the pandemic, although rapid and unforeseen changes in markets have certainly compounded it. The merchants and operators we speak to all complain of the same issue: Spending way too much of their time sifting through dozens or even hundreds of business intelligence reports to reach the information they need every week or every morning. The average merchant or operator spends up to two thirds of their time dealing with non-decision-making tasks like gathering data and syncing their observations with colleagues. They’re suffering from information overload and struggling to wade through masses of data in order to reach the crucial decision points they must address to move their businesses forward.

And even after they have identified the questions that must be answered and the anomalies that must be addressed, merchants and operators still have not identified how to act, or considered how to prioritize their laundry list of important operational and merchandising moves. By the time they can start the week’s real work, new problems have often arisen, and it becomes easy to fall behind. Many anomalies will never be corrected for and many insights will never be acted upon in time to benefit the business.

CrowdANALYTIX created MerchantX to leverage AI in merchandising and planning operational decision-making.

Simplified data

Businesses typically use merchandising analytics systems like Oracle and Netsuite, and incorporate tools including Tableau and PowerBI. These are all intended to simplify merchandisers and operators decision-making processes, but they do not actually break data down in ways that humans can quickly and easily understand. Sheafs of reports and endless dashboard configurations may be better than terabytes of raw data, but MerchantX goes one step farther: not only does it analyze those terabytes of data from transactions, inventories, MDMs, and other sources, it presents the data in ways that users can instantly interpret.

At the merchant’s chosen internal, MerchantX presents 4–5 clear insights, already selected as most in need of the user’s attention. These are not just raw numbers or indecipherable charts. Here are some real examples from a footwear vendor:

  1. Revenue of Sneakers up 5% versus last year (weekly) compared to the Category average of -2%
  2. Sales per square foot of Heels for Vendor 7 is down by 156% versus Target
  3. Vendor 12 has missed the Target Number of Transactions by 13%

Rather than working through reports to reach these conclusions on their own, merchants see them as soon as they open the dashboard in the morning, and decisions can be made accordingly, without delay.

Endless flexibility

Unlike traditional business intelligence tools that require the user to deal with endless dashboard configurations to make sure that their tools are adequately customized, MerchantX makes this process easy. Because it is driven by AI, MerchantX is able to learn from the metrics it encounters and the preferences that the user displays over time.

The AI can process terabytes of data at a time, which means that transactions histories, inventory changes, vendors, MDM info, and more are all accounted for in its analyses and conclusions. Users can track deviations in virtually any business metric across any timeline, including content, operations, product onboarding, SEO, financials, and seasonal promotions. Although MerchantX comes with several hundred commonly used Key Result Areas (KRAs) preprogrammed, users are able to add their own or customize the existing ones to best reflect their business’ goals.

Custom help

Not only can KRAs and tracking be customized, users can also get custom help from our AI systems. CrowdANALYTIX’ AI is so sophisticated that users can ask it questions about their business decisions and tactics, and get helpful answers back quickly.

Some real-life examples from the aforementioned footwear retailer include:

  1. Which vendor had the lowest lead time in Kids School Shoes in Black Color over the last 4 weeks?
  2. What is the impact of Yoga Shoes on Category Revenues over the last 12 weeks?
  3. Which brand had the highest sell through rate in the recent ‘Back to School’ Promotion?

Some questions are, of course, too complicated for AI to answer. In the event that a user has a more complex question, MerchantX leverages our team of data scientists, statisticians, and data analysts to address the query instead. This is also a way to get deeper analysis of questions that users want to thoroughly map.

The bottom line

MerchantX saves the average merchant or operator at least 4–5 hours every single Monday morning — and a lot more considering the just-in-time analytics it delivers throughout the week. Users can jump straight to the information they need, without time wasted in tedious analysis. Anomalies are pinpointed almost instantly, processes are optimized with AI, and MerchantX is seamlessly integrated into merchant databases in just 4–6 weeks.

Writer and Content Manager for CrowdANALYTIX. PhD from UT Austin.

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