Businesses that seek to access the full potential of retail analytics derived from big data will face some challenges along the way, but perhaps the biggest struggle for most executives and managers is overcoming the hype.

Nearly every business and tech magazine published these days includes at least a few roaring reports on the power of big data: gains won for this or that company, surprising applications in unexpected industries, and thrilling predictions of the dramatically expanded scope of big data services over the next five or ten years.

It’s all very exciting, but the surge of big data reporting has pushed our conception of what big data actually does into the realm of the fantastic and grandiose, where companies like Target and Walmart are telling people what they want before those desires are ever felt, and Facebook is shaping the moods of society.

Big data gets so much buzz because it actually works. The uses are endlessly varied, and creative analysts are finding astonishing new applications all the time. It’s no surprise that journalists keep writing about it: big data generates newsworthy stories as reliably as it creates value for companies that invest in it.

All that makes for great reading, but cumulatively it also creates the impression that big data is only for companies with big budgets and bigger data sets. While that might have been true even a few years ago, back when accessing the power of big data meant hiring data scientists and building expensive infrastructure, it’s simply no longer the case.    

Business Intelligence for Every Business

“The history of information services and business is that the rich tend to get richer,” Tom Davenport, author of many books on business intelligence and knowledge management, recently told Inc. magazine. “There are big companies that could afford it, and so prospered more than the smaller ones. But now there’s nothing that says you can’t do this as a small business too.”

Big companies have some obvious advantages. But with software services available on the Cloud, businesses don’t need to develop technology or create purpose-built systems for their data. The tools for mining big data are now readily available.

The most oft-repeated advice that’s given to companies starting out with big data is to go for the quick win. Set a reasonable goal based on the data your company is already streaming and from which you are most likely to obtain measurable value. For CPG companies, the low-hanging fruit is supply chain efficiency. Without question, this is the surest bet for best return on your analytics investment.

“There are now more risks to the supply chain, and supply chain risks are more costly.”

(Deloitte, The Ripple Effect: How manufacturing and retail executives view the growing challenge of supply chain risk)

The progressive digitization of commerce and the unbelievable rise of mobile sales and marketing have increased demand for many products and multiplied the number of revenue streams, but it has also made the supply chain much more complicated.

CPG companies now need to be able to respond dynamically and flexibly to fluctuations at the retail level if they want to compete in an increasingly fluid marketplace. All these changes put incredible pressure on the efficiency of the supply chain.

The first step to improving the retail supply chain is syncing your data to a platform that will translate the live inputs into clear visuals in real-time. Sorting through data that’s been shelved away into spreadsheets is a sure way to perpetuate inefficiencies.

“Put simply, if you’re analyzing data after the fact, you can’t pinpoint problems and make adjustments fast enough to prevent missed deliveries and out-of-stock situations before they impact the customer,” writes Dale Skeen of Multichannel Merchant.

The real function of data is awareness. Just as consumers use their smartphones to stay comprehensively connected to their environment scheduling, opportunities, events through alerts and push notifications, companies can use big data-powered retail analytics in the Cloud to sustain constant surveillance of their products and SKUs in real time, from anywhere.

To find out how you can raise your company’s shelf-level awareness and achieve quick gains through real-time retail analytics, check out our Smarter Retail Analytics infographic.