Before Business Intelligence (BI) systems, there were decision support systems which retailers used to help guide their buying, marketing and merchandising decisions. Just six short years ago, a lifetime when measured in IT terms, outdoor gear and sporting goods retailer REI was succeeding in the marketplace, but struggling to gain insight into its business.
REI chose to implement the PivotLink BI application from Sea Tab. According to John Strother, REI's director of merchandising, operations and planning, "We had this tool that we were using prior to implementing PivotLink and people were used to business analytics, but it was a select group of people who had mastered the use of the tool," and were able to use it as part of their daily jobs.
After migrating to the PivotLink software, REI gained the ability to look at key metrics including sales, margin, inventory, turn and returns data. Any metric, from a merchandising perspective, all the way down to SKU/location, is visible in PivotLink, says Strother. "The key advantage of PivotLink is that since it retains all the data on a granular basis and it has the ability to summarize data very quickly: you don't have to pre-establish all of the relationships in order to see how your business is doing," he says.
Strother cites the software's usefulness for doing ad hoc analysis as one of the system's strongest points. "We do a lot of ad hoc analysis where we want to look at the business in a different way or answer a question that we didn't even ask yesterday. We might be interested in asking 'we've made a change in this particular retail location and this particular product category, like we've expand ed square footage in this particular location for a given department - how would we then compare that department to other departments at stores in that same region?' PivotLink would allow us to do that," he says.
The tool itself allows retailers to spin the data around/across any of the three major dimensions - product, location, time - very simply. According to Strother, REI's merchants use the tool to analyze business to better understand sales opportunities, inventory opportunities, markdown opportunities, as well as margin opportunities across all the different attributes of the business. For these reasons and others, Strother views PivotLink as a key tool.