Sales Best Practices

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Sales Operations: Best Practices (Short Term)

According to the major consultant firms — McKinsey, Bain, Deloitte — there are many significant adoptions of changes coming to sales operations, which will result in best practices in both the short and long term. Those which are required to build the foundation are presented as short term. Those that will build upon the infrastructure to transform retail sales are outlined in the long term report which follows. These two reports are not only best practices but a high level road map for implementation. The three short-term best practices are changing the sales operation, developing foundational capabilities, and implementing digital best practices.

Changing the Sales Operation

  • The sales operation has grown in size and complexity in most organizations.
  • Traditionally the sales operations team has operated in the background, undervalued and often seen as a nerdy group working with spreadsheets monitoring forecasts and tracking commissions.
  • As a best practice, best-in-class companies are transitioning their organizational design to deal with this complexity.
  • Companies are creating a commercial operations department which includes "elements of go-to-market strategy, many of the activities performed by sales operations and marketing operations, and a layer of digital applications and advanced analytics."

Building Foundational Capabilities

Digital Best Practices

  • There are three steps to implement digital best practices. The first is to build a best-in-class digital infrastructure that includes appropriate governance, documenting the information architecture and the management of core customer, sales, and market data, keeping in mind the long term goals and the data relationships required.
  • One company dealt with this challenge by creating a master data management team responsible for the oversight of customer data quality, stewardship, and use by the commercial organization.
  • The second step is a review of the existing core commercial applications in use.
  • Leading companies have realized that tracking sales and pipeline activity in great detail have gone too far in many cases. Leading organizations now have the goal of simplifying and automating the "mountain of call logs, account status updates, sales forecasts, and other administrative activities that burden the salesforce."
  • To do that, leaders have a "best-in-class digital application stack." This stack is the integration of the bedrock applications of customer relationship management systems, business intelligence solutions, and marketing automation platforms. When these three are layered on top of a well-designed data infrastructure, these two best practices combined have contributed to a higher margin and share growth.
  • The final digital best practice is to use the data that has been transformed by the applications.
  • Leading commercial operations departments are using big data to solve sales and marketing challenges. They're using advanced analytics to find the ideal customers and increase cross-selling of the right products
  • When the best practices of data science and analytics work with well-designed data infrastructure and efficient technology applications, companies have substantially boosted sales productivity.

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Sales Operations: Best Practices (Long Term)

Once an organization has implemented the best practices for the short term, the foundation has been laid to begin to implement the long term best practices in retail and CPG. These practices include a transformation of retail stores, warehouses and distribution centers, personalization and a new customer journey, and the evolution of a sales ecosystem.

Transformation of Retail Stores

  • By 2023, e-commerce is forecast to be only 21 percent of total retail sales and five percent of grocery sales. It is, therefore, clear that the future of retail will belong to companies with an authentic omnichannel experience.
  • In five years, best practices will include the use of emerging technologies and granular data on customers to transform their in-store experience.
  • There are new technologies that have reached a tipping point and will be used by sales operation to design the retail floor in five years.
  • Big data analytics and machine learning are ready to make use of the vast quantities of customer data that retailers like Target and Krogers already accumulate. Robots and automation systems will have moved out of factories and into warehouses and distribution centers for big companies like Coke and P&G. The Internet of Things will allow products to be on shelves with millimeter precision.

Personalization and the Evolving Customer Journey

Retail Ecosystem

  • Different providers each own a part of the retail customer's whole experience. The mall operator, the retail store, and the brand product all contribute to the shopper's buying experience. But each entity only sees and affects a portion of the total buying experience.
  • The next big opportunity to personalize is creating connections between those three points. A best practice in five years will be a "seamless consistent consumer experience across all stages of the consumer experience."
  • Creating connections between those points represents a significant opportunity in the next level of personalization, as expanding partner ecosystems allow brands to provide more seamless and consistent consumer experiences across all stages of their decision journeys.
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CPG / Retail Sales Team Modernization

Some examples of large CPG or retail companies that are future-proofing their sales teams include Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble.


  • Coca-Cola is using its outside sales team and self-service e-commerce to decrease expenses, promote growth, and enhance its sales team morale, according to Director of E-commerce Marta Dalton.
  • The company is offering its sales representatives customer segmentation and training to transform e-commerce into an asset, which permits them to concentrate on selling. It also permits them to save costs and turn a profit while attaining a brand-new business customer online or performing their duties swiftly.
  • According to Dalton, connecting the sales team to e-commerce will help them save cost and increase profitability in the long run. New customer acquisitions could cost the company under $3 compared to sales calls that cost between $50 to $80.
  • By consolidating sales teams with e-commerce, the team will have the opportunity to supervise large accounts using an e-commerce support expert, along with establishing buyer segments by evaluating both the money and time used on every account.
  • In the long run, the company plans to turn e-commerce into an asset for the sales force. It will utilize it as a means to maximize its sales teams' efficiencies, along with strategizing on the best ways to serve low to high-level consumers.


  • The company's Procter & Gamble Professional (PGP) division is digitizing by implementing Salesforce and engaging their sales teams with the system which supports them in being productive, capturing activities wherever, and placing orders for higher productivity.
  • The PGP division aims to capture comprehensive views of its clients and gain the necessary flexibility to become accustomed to the quickly changing future business dynamics. By implementing Salesforce, the sales team performs via a centralized system, which facilitates quicker communication with customers and internal teams.
  • By accessing Salesforce through iPads, the company's sales teams can perform their work from anywhere, while providing presentations that are more engaging with clients. It also supports them in closing deals quicker by swiftly computing "how much solution a potential customer needs to order," along with estimating savings comparisons against competitive offerings.
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Sales Organization Trends, Part 1

Sales organizational design and capability is a dynamic part of an organization's overall structure. Like all aspects of a large organization, it must change and adapt to ensure it remains relevant to the consumers. Increasingly organizations are looking to adopt behavior-centric design options to achieve this. There is also a need to be responsive to change in the current environment, resulting in a trend towards organizational structures that support agility.

Behavior-centric Design

  • Behavior-centric design is one that takes into account the complex environment the organization is operating in and the changing nature of work itself. Traditionally all the elements of an organization's design and structure were thought to act directly and proportionately on organizational performance when this is not the case. Behavior-centric design puts behavior at the center of organizational design process.
  • This approach sees the organization prioritize the behaviors that are most important if it is to be successful, then design the organization around these behaviors, in a way that promotes and encourages them. The concept is best explained graphically.
  • It is essential that before embarking on this process of redesign, the organization clearly identifies where it is failing at the current time and the aim of the reorganization. Considerations should take into account competitive advantage, pain points, and strategic priorities.

Reasons for the Trend Toward Behavior-Centric Design

  • Globalization, disruptive technology, economic uncertainty, and increasing competition are just some of the challenges facing organizations that are sales orientated currently. Adopting a behavior-centric design will assist these organizations in maintaining their competitiveness in the marketplace.
  • According to a recent BCG study, almost 80% of US organizations have completed a reorganization initiative recently. The results are underwhelming, with fewer than half the organizations reporting it a success, mainly because the organizational designs relied on are outdated and ineffective frameworks that don't account for the current environment.
  • The trend toward behavior-centric organizational design is a reflection of the current environment. It allows an organization to structure its design so that it optimizes its performance by promoting the behaviors that make it successful.

Examples of Companies Adopting Behavior-Centric Designs

  • Walgreens has been operating successfully for nearly 120 years. For over three decades in the 1980s through to mid-2010s, the company focused on expanding its retail footprint. It was incredibly successful going from 4,250 stores in 2003 to over 7,000 in 2009. This business strategy required the company to adopt a design that supported a "command and control approach to leadership." Employees had clear processes that they followed. It worked for a long time. It worked until the competitive landscape changed.
  • When new competitors entered the market, grocers started offering in-store prescriptions, and online retailers like Amazon started selling most of the same product lines, Walgreens business strategy started to falter. Coupled with a changing political landscape that looked to improve the quality while reducing the cost of healthcare, Walgreens needed to change its strategy and focus on improving the customer experience, if they were to maintain their position in the marketplace.
  • Part of recalibrating their business strategy involved redefining the organizational structure and design. Walgreens recognized that they needed to get the best out of their employees. They wanted to empower their employees to come up with their own solutions. Part of this transition meant the organizational structure needed to be redesigned so that it had a focus on front line and field leadership. This design needed to reflect an environment where employees were coached rather than led and focused on optimizing customer interactions.
  • They introduced a new layer to the organizational structure so that there was corporate-level leadership closer to the customer. It also meant that district managers could focus more closely on the stores. They created market-level accountability by moving the responsibility for profits and losses to each separate market. The last change to the organizational structure was to add another dimension, with the introduction of community leaders to mentor managers and encourage the desired behaviors.
  • The changes to the organizational design were only part of Walgreens recalibration, and it came at a cost, $30 million in staff training alone, but in the first survey following the restructure, Walgreens moved from the 25th to 95th percentile when evaluating customer engagement.
  • Adobe places trust in its employees rather than micromanage them, and the organizational design reflects this. Adobe wants its employees to be creative and so avoided organizational designs that might inhibit creativity or influence the way the teams interact within the organization. Employee ratings, for example, are thought to change the way teams operate and inhibit creativity, so Adobe has done away with them.
  • The role of manager at Adobe has become more akin to a coach, rather than authoritarian in nature. The managers facilitate the employee setting goals and deciding how they should be assessed. As a result, there is less of a hierarchy to the organizational structure Adobe has adopted. The trust that Adobe has placed in its employees has led to comfortable and independent employees who are working to help the company grow through their creative behaviors.

Organizing for Agility

  • Data analytics is playing an increasing role in the trend toward organizational agility. Organizational agility has its roots in the digital world, but is becoming increasingly more important in the physical world of sales.
  • Agility allows an organization to respond quickly and effectively to changes in the marketplace and ensure they maintain their relevance. It also creates organizational resilience. By adopting an agile organizational design in sales, customer feedback can be responded to more efficiently and effectively. Structuring and designing organizations in a way that facilitates agility is a growing trend in sales organizations.
  • In order to become more agile organizations are structuring their hierarchy, accountabilities, decision-making, and culture so they are in sync with those goals. Overlayering had become commonplace and part of this trend sees a flattening of organizational hierarchies, and a refocusing toward a customer-focused culture.
  • The realization that an organizational focus drives agility means different groups within the organization are discouraged from focusing on different capabilities. This is partly to allow the agility to extend beyond the current generation of employees.
  • To achieve this, the organization must "encourage a broad, inclusive discussion that creates a clear view of which capabilities are necessary across the entire company and how to prioritize them." This results in the entire company moving in sync and becoming more responsive to change. In some organizations this has created a network approach, with teams forming and disbanding to achieve specific capabilities.

Reasons for Trend toward Organizing for Agility

  • The possibilities that data analytics unlocks have fanned the flames of the trend toward designing organizations that are reactive to change, or agile in the market place. Targeted data analytics has created an environment where competitors can gain a rapid advantage. This means organizations need to be able to react quickly to change, and organizational structures need to create a culture where this is possible.

Examples of Agility

  • Deloitte research around agility gave the example of a North American bank competing with fintechs and unconventional new players on customer experiences, rapid turnaround, and digital interfaces. The bank needed an organizational structure and design that would embed agile practices and a network approach into the culture of the organization.
  • They created a network of cross-functional teams focusing on specific products or outcomes. When the goal of the team was achieved the team was redistributed to new projects. By adopting this organizational structure, the bank was able to increase its speed in the development cycle, which increased its market agility.
  • Many market analysts would agree The Home Depot lost its service-orientated culture when it restricted agility within the organization. The Home Depot had historically given store managers the ability to make decisions autonomously. This agility meant that they could make appropriate decisions dictated by the circumstances.
  • In a cost-cutting exercise, the CEO of The Home Depot centralized the company operations, which saved the company a considerable amount of money, through negotiated discounts with suppliers. The flip side was that the agility of the individual stores was restricted; they became less entrepreneurial in nature and the service-focus that had been a feature of the company waned.

Research Strategy

To determine the trends around sales organizational design and capabilities in large retail or CPG companies, we reviewed a range of industry publications, third-party industry reports, academic research, media articles, and opinion articles and blogs. This enabled us to establish a list of probable trends in this area. Each of the identified trends was researched independently using the aforementioned sources. We leveraged the data identified against the current practices in Europe, Canada, and the US so that we could determine if the trend was likely to impact on organizations in the US based on its development. The trends identified were those that had the most significant impact on markets considered more advanced than the US, were most likely to impact companies trading in the US, and have been recognized and acted upon by major companies. They also have hard data to support them and have generated the most discussion among industry experts.
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Sales Organization Trends, Part 2

In today's world, the marketplace is continually changing and evolving, and companies must adapt to maintain their place in the market. Organizational leadership must ensure that they are aware and have considered these trends to compete effectively. The concepts of web-rooming and show-rooming are new capabilities that consumers are increasingly looking for in large retail organizations. They are a reflection of the move toward omnichannel retail. There has also been an increasing trend towards pop-in (store-in-store) partnerships that benefit both organizations involved. These new trends are forcing sales organizations to re-evaluate and reorganize their capabilities.

Omnichannel Capabilities

  • To meet the demands of the consumer, there is an increasing trend toward ensuring that organizational design and capabilities are orientated toward an omnichannel approach. Web-rooming and show-rooming are becoming increasingly common terms in sales circles as organizations seek to optimize the experience for consumers.
  • Web-rooming is the process of shopping that starts on-line and ends in-store, while show-rooming is the process of shopping that starts in-store and ends on-line. They are both illustrations of how important it is for sales organizations to endure that they have a presence across multiple sales channels.
  • This trend is building as more traditional retail sales organizations are faced with adopting omnichannel capabilities to ensure their survival.

Reason for Trend Toward Omnichannel Capabilities

  • Online sales are expected to account for 25% of non-food retail sales by the end of 2020, compared to the current 20%. Consumers are increasingly looking to shop across multiple platforms, connect directly with brands, and expect a personalized experience.
  • It is becoming increasingly difficult for organizations to survive without cultivating new sales channels. The consumer focused environment demands the convenience and accessibility that an omnichannel sales brings. Adopting an omnichannel approach to sales is becoming essential to survival.

Examples of Organizations Adopting an Omnichannel Approach

  • Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus is a good example of a sales organization that has adopted an omnichannel approach. They have a dynamic approach to ensure the consumer experience is as painless as possible. Everything about their approach is focused on ensuring the customer has the best experience possible.
  • Each customer interaction forms part of a personalized profile that is used to create an individualized experience for the customer. If a customer consistently searches a particular size, the site remembers, and next time directs the customer to the stores nearby with the appropriate size in-store. Neiman Marcus analyzes all the available data about the customer and uses it to make assumptions about their preferences and behaviors.
  • One of the reasons that Neiman Marcus is successful in this approach is they are innovative in the tools that they offer the customer to optimize the experience. An example is the Memory Mirror, which shoppers can use to take a video of themselves trying the products, that they can upload through an app to social media.
  • They also offer Snap. Find. Shop where customers can upload a photo of handbags and shoes that they like, and run them against the Neiman Marcus database to find similar-looking products, and their in-store location. It also gives the customer the opportunity of buying the product immediately online.
  • The approach adopted by Neiman Marcus illustrates not only how critical omnichannel capabilities are to sales organizations, but how to ensure that the opportunity it provides is maximized.

Pop-in Partnerships

  • Pop-up stores are more than just a trend, they are the norm, but coming on the back of that trend is the new trend towards pop-in stores.
  • There is an increasing trend in large retail organizations to enter a partnership with a digital-native, in-demand brand and host a pop-up for the brand in-store. They are beneficial to both parties as they create new audiences and sales channels.
  • The benefit of foot traffic and a space within a store creates will expose the pop-in to a larger and more diverse audience, while the host creates a different vibe within their sales area and is provided a targeted, engaged, new audience to focus their sales efforts toward.

Reason for Trend Toward Pop-in Partnerships

  • Online sales are increasingly eating into the profits of traditional sales organizations. Sales organizations and retailers are facing increasing pressure to differentiate the experience they offer to remain relevant in the market.
  • With only 32% of consumers going to stores because they enjoy the experience, and almost 75% attempting to avoid them altogether, there is pressure on sales organizations to adapt.
  • There are few opportunities differentiate themselves and create unique sales channels, so what started as a faze has become increasingly popular with sales organizations starting to appreciate the mutual benefits of pop-in partnerships.
  • The audience that a pop-in store brings to the larger retailer is invaluable because it is an audience that frequents brick and mortar stores, an audience that is looking to immerse in the brand. They are an engaged audience, which could result in unique sales channels being established.
  • As more organizations see the collateral benefits, to their competitors or other verticals, of entering into pop-in partnerships, they are moving to host their own pop-in, building momentum for the trend.

Examples of Pop-in Partnerships

  • Bloomingdales is an example of a large sales organization that has embraced the pop-in store and the new sales channels it creates.
  • Market analyst Greg Stoffel explained, "It broadens their merchandise. These are pop-ups that may have gone elsewhere around them and are now going in the store, particularly when they further the position of the store. This arrangement ensures retailers that these stores do not open up elsewhere around them and create further competition."
  • Target offers a variation of the concept. They are currently increasing their physical retail presence, opening a number of new stores in new locations. Their new stores are designed to look and feel like a pop-up store. They mirror a small store concept. In adopting this approach, they are attempting to appeal to a new dynamic audience.
  • Target is looking to encourage the younger audience. They have adopted a streamlined, painless shopping process and designed their entire format to look like the pop-up store next door. In doing so, they have increased brand awareness and identity to a different demographic, which long-term will create new sales channels.

Research Strategy

To determine the trends around sales organizational design and capabilities in large retail or CPG companies, we reviewed a range of industry publications, third-party industry reports, academic research, media articles, and opinion articles and blogs. This enabled us to establish a list of probable trends in this area. Each of the identified trends was researched independently using the aforementioned sources. We leveraged the data identified against the current practices in Europe, Canada, and the US so that we could determine if the trend was likely to impact on organizations in the US based on its development. The trends identified were those that had the most significant impact on markets considered more advanced than the US, were most likely to impact companies trading in the US, and have been recognized and acted upon by major companies. They also have hard data to support them and have generated the most discussion among industry experts.
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CPG Brands and Retailers

For the next five years, research reports show the emergence of different ways on how consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies in the United States will engage with their retail partners. These include the increased use of technology-integrated personalization process and the increased role of robotics process automation (RPA), both used in inventory management, manufacturing, production, and introduction of new products. These and other details are presented below.

Technology-Integrated Personalization Process

  • According to research published by CB Insights, CPG companies are seen to have increased integration of technological advancements in the production method, strategies, and introduction of new products to retailers as part of the personalization process in the coming years.
  • Based on a predictive and holistic view of the purchasing habits and behavior of consumers, Nielsen's retail and CPG predictions also indicate that technology will boost consumer's preference of products and services that "personally serves" them.
  • To make consumers feel they are "personally served" CPG companies are framing products as solutions and not just as ingredients. They can implement these personalized solutions more effectively by integrating technology.
  • Some examples of emerging technologies used by CPG brands are big data, machine learning, DNA testing and microbiome analysis, and enhanced manufacturing capabilities.
  • Nestle, for example, launched a DNA-based pilot program for one of its products where consumers can take a DNA test at home. Based on this test, retailers can determine personally formulated brands suitable for their retail consumers which then Nestle can use as the basis for their production.
  • While the determination of products or ingredients best suited for regular consumers on retail shops is done using machine learning technology, the production system is then supported by automated factories and 3D printing technologies.
IoT-Enabled New Products
  • Examples of these companies include Walmart, Amazon, and Procter & Gamble which recently filed "patents for smart home systems that automatically order refills for empty products".
  • According to a report from Packaging Strategies, today's forward-thinking retailers are seeing great use and importance of IoT when giving personalized customer value, which dictates how CPG companies can adopt in their manufacturing system.
  • While 89% of retailers believe that IoT increases their insight into personalized customer preferences, 77% of retailers believe that IoT technology solutions help them better engage with CPG partners in delivering products and services with the utmost quality.
  • The introduction of these technologies in new products and inventory systems that are personalized "can drive long-term shopper loyalty", especially if these features are not replicated by other brands, which in turn will increase the volume that these retailers will need to engage with CPG brands.

Use of Robotics Process Automation (RPA)

  • Historically, there was a 48% increase in the number of robots sold to the CPG market in 2018.
  • BI Intelligence, the premium research arm of Business Insider, predicts that about 2.8 million enterprise robots will be shipped in total by 2021.
  • The challenges and barriers faced by CPG companies when negotiating with retailers include the increased demand for personalized products, sustainability concerns, and having a younger consumer-base that has specific product demands.
  • With specific consumer preferences collated by retailers, CPG brands use this data to collaborative robots (or cobots) as applied across packaging lines.
Other Potential Applications of RPA
  • Potential applications of RPA also include precision in inventory management like supplies replenishment and other warehouse distribution center applications.
  • RPA uses the data in the retail sector and executes deep learning mechanisms to enable its partner CPGs to execute streamlined processes. The data processing power of RPA also helps in order management and quality control. This data helps to:
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Consumer Retail Experience

The utilization of experiential retail and self checkout systems are two of the most impactful ways that the consumer retail experience is expected to change within the next two years.

Experiential Retail

  • In a general sense, experiential retail involves a store where not only shopping and selling occurs, but shoppers are allowed to engage in certain activities.
  • The idea is that the store provides customers with products or services as well as a memorable experience.
  • Experiential marketing deals with shoppers directly, leading them to encounter products in-person as opposed to placing "them in the role of the observer and hoping that traditional marketing campaigns will resonate with them or be memorable."
  • Around 93% of purchasers say that live events typically have a greater impact on them compared to TV advertisements.
  • Experiential retail entails consolidating entertainment and retail to improve customers' shopping experiences.
  • Millennials and their desire for experience over objects have powered this trend to a considerable extent.

Levi Strauss & Co.

  • Levi Strauss & Co. utilizes experiential retail with its jeans label Levi’s by integrating technology and craft in the Tailor Shop at the back of its storefront situated in Times Square.
  • Customers get to observe while tailors customize their jeans with personalized elements such as chain stitched embroidery, buttons, and patches.
  • Also, with the direct-to-garment printing service, customers can get a customized T-shirt design.

Rosé Mansion

  • The Rosé Mansion in New York City has a magnificent dream park that integrates a science museum, wine bar, and an amusement park for its customers to enjoy an interactive wine tasting experience.
  • Customers can enjoy amenities such as a lobby to wait for acquaintances, a shop where they can buy items, trendy restaurants, a gift shop, etc.
  • There are also events for special nights as well as weekends.

The Future

  • Over one-third of surveyed chief marketing officers intend to allocate between 21% to 50% of their budgets towards brand experiences in the near future.
  • Around 80% of marketers agree that live events are vital to the success of their businesses.
  • Consumers are rejecting the idea of only shopping for items, and they are searching for an experience that is more engaging to them.
  • Experiential retail is expected to replace the conventional shopping experience.

Self-Checkout Systems

  • Self-checkout is an automated process that allows customers to scan, bag, and pay for their items without human interference.
  • Self-checkout is becoming very popular with retailers and shoppers alike.
  • Around 75% of respondents to a Consumer Reports survey stated they liked self-checkout because it is time-saving.
  • Within the last five years, a shift has occurred in the retail sector in favor of self-checkout technology, particularly for supermarkets.
  • While self-checkout systems have their flaws, including the ease of usability, the benefits seem to outweigh those issues as many shoppers continue to use the self checkout lanes.
  • The system is fast and easy. Customers do not have to wait in line to pay for their grocery items after shopping.
  • It removes the need for cashiers. Due to this, a store's wage bill can decrease.
  • Amazon Go has numerous stores in New York City that feature machine learning technologies and computer vision. The stores enable shoppers to obtain the items they need and leave without having to check/scan the goods or wait in line to pay.

The Future

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Sales and Automation

Automation has become an increasingly integral part of sales organizations in the retail sector. Kroger has begun automated delivery and warehouse operations, in partnership with two companies that are active in the automation space; Walmart has begun employing robots in its stores that free up human workers to focus on sales and customer service; and Lowes has employed an AI called LoweBot to assist with sales and customer service in stores, as well as an autonomous delivery service in partnership with FedEx. Details of these case studies can be found below.

Kroger's Automated Product Delivery and Warehouse Operations

Walmart's Employment of Robotic Workers in Stores

  • Recently, Walmart has been implementing robots to perform a variety of mundane tasks in its stores.
  • The company has employed floor-scrubbing robots in some 1,800 stores and shelf-scanning inventory robots in some 1,700 stores. In all, the retail giant expects robots to be operating in
  • While the robots have increased efficiency in these simple, repetitive tasks as compared to human workers, they reportedly haven't resulted in significant job losses, and instead simply allow human workers to focus their efforts on more complicated tasks outside of the robots' purview. (Walmart claims that this will make workers happier; it remains to be seen if that is true).
  • Thus, instead of cutting labor costs, the robots are described primarily as a way of "shifting labor costs," allowing human workers to be more productive at non-menial tasks like sales and customer assistance.
  • Still, the company admits that its robotic scheme will lead to "some worker attrition over time."
  • Interestingly, one of Walmart's main competitors, Target, has decided to reject the robot-worker strategy, with its CEO asserting that "the human touch still really matters."

The LoweBot and Lowe's Autonomous Delivery Services

  • Home improvement retailer Lowe's was one of the first companies to employ AI in its stores, in the form of the so-called LoweBot, which provides answers to simple questions, thereby assisting with sales and customer service in stores.
  • Like Walmart, Lowe's claims that the LoweBot "enables employees to spend more time offering their expertise and specialty knowledge to customers," instead of cutting into its workforce.
  • The LoweBot was launched in 2016 in 11 of Lowe's San Francisco Bay Area stores.
  • Lowe's has also collaborated with FedEx to create a same-day delivery robot, allowing for increased efficiency and customer satisfaction while cutting down on labor costs.
  • Unlike self-driving trucks, which are able to traverse long distances but struggle with the so-called "last mile" phase of delivery to a customer's house, FedEx's robot, which Lowe's will employ, is designed to handle the last mile phase.
  • As in other implementations of automation, a Lowe's executive "predicts last-mile delivery will not see a complete robotic takeover any time soon," though the new robots are highly sustainable (running on batteries) and are expected to reduce costs over the long term.
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CPG and Retail: Data Sharing

Retailers and CPG brands share consumer data (sales data) in various ways, including their own data and analytics platforms, single-platform solutions provided by third parties, software-driven workflows, and other cloud and big data technologies. Large US retailers, such as Walmart through its retail link and Lowe's through its LowesLink platforms, share consumer data with their suppliers.

Retailer's Own Data and Analytics Platforms

  • Retailers and CPG manufacturers are collaborating on their data and analytics platforms to share mutual data. Walmart’s retail link shares data with its suppliers, which enables the suppliers to conduct a real-time analysis of data to make decisions regarding on-shelf availability. Similarly, the LowesLink platform from Lowes allows its suppliers to access in-store transaction information.

Single-Platform Solutions by Third-Party Providers

  • Other single-platform solutions such as ownerIQ are constructed to permit both retailers and CPG brands to share data. On these platforms, CPG brands can request distinct data from selected retailers or collect data that is already available for analysis.

Software-Driven Workflows

  • Retailers also utilize software-driven workflows that collates data into a central warehouse to provide a simple and reliable way of sharing their data with supply chain partners. This process helps in streamlining the reporting of consolidated data sources.
  • The integration of various data streams, such as Point of Sales (POS), sales projections, inventory levels and time-on-shelf reports, provides an extensive and far-reaching set-up for the retailers and supply chain partners. This facilitates both parties to analyze the data and make business decisions for business operations.

Other Cloud and Big Data Technologies

  • CPG brands are actively pursuing large retailers to share their consumer data, which is becoming a major influence on the sales outcome. The demand for sharing “second-party data,” especially in the grocery segment, is increasing. It entails a retailer bestowing its first-party consumer data to advertisers in an effort to improve their current data sets.
  • The concept of co-mingled data will simplify how CPG brands advertise and target their specific consumers to drive repeat purchases.
  • Retailers are inclined to provide their sales and consumer data to suppliers for the purpose of enhanced return on investments (RoI). Suppliers are administering advanced business intelligence software to evaluate data they are collecting from retailers. This action will enable them to obtain and synthesize the data collected through various sources and make effective use of the data.
  • The available cloud technologies and tools for supplier and retailers have helped data sharing to become streamlined. These tools enhance demand forecasts and shopping patterns, which assists suppliers and retailers in making critical business decisions such as cost reductions and improvement in efficiency for purchases and deliveries.

Research Strategy:

During our research, we were unable to find information on how retailers and CPG brands are going to share consumer data (sales data) over the next two to three years. Most of the data we came across concerned ways they are evolving and are more/less likely to be prevalent in the future. For example, data sharing tools used by CPG brands and retailers such as Walmart and Lowe's include their data and analytics platforms, but there is not sufficient corroborating sources/evidence to definitively state this. An outline of the research strategies we employed to find this information is available below.

Our research began by searching through relevant industry reports covering CPG brands and the retail industry, including Grand View Research, Transparency Research, and Markets & Markets, among others, as such sources tend to cover futuristic trends within a particular market. However, the reports we found only provided information on the market size of consumer data platforms and general market trends, but there was nothing specific to consumer data sharing, likely due to the niche nature of the subject. Also, we checked news articles on PR Newswire, ABC News, and CNN, as well as reports published by Deloitte, McKinsey, and Retail Info Systems (RIS). Nevertheless, these sources mostly discussed consumer concerns about sharing their data with retailers/brands, brand strategy, and industry forecasts.

Next, we attempted to triangulate the information and searched through articles/reports centered on large retailers and CPG brands, such as Target, Kroger, Macy's, Walmart, Lowe's, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble, to obtain some insights on data sharing, specifically for consumer data. The idea here was to see what plans these companies have made for data sharing in the future. We came across reports from Digiday and HCL Tech discussing the various ways large retailers/CPG brands are currently sharing consumer data, but no specific comments/revelations were highlighting how this is going to change over the next two to three years. The reason for this is that these tools are evolving, and hence, their use may continue in the future. However, there were no concrete statements from the brands listed above on the changes they are planning for existing systems, probably due to competitive reasons.

Afterward, we tried to perform a triangulation using the current data sharing methods implemented by retailers and CPG brands by finding evidence that the current tools will undergo changes in what they are offering or could offer in the future. We focused on companies providing relevant solutions such as Phocas Software and ownerIQ. Though these companies did mention that businesses are utilizing or should use the tools, which they claim are constantly evolving, there was no information on any planned changes for the future.

Most of the sources we encountered primarily addressed the ways retailers and CPG brands engage data collection and how they use it, and there is limited information on data sharing.
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CPG and Retail: Data Usage

Coca-Cola uses social media, artificial intelligence and self-service tools to collect consumer data for product development and bolstering revenue. Nordstrom uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to increase revenue and reduce costs.

Coca Cola

  • In 2017, Coca Cola released Cherry Sprite in response to consumer data numbers. Their self-service machines/kiosk gave consumers the ability to mix and customize drinks to their liking. In doing this, Coca Cola was able to identify the most popular flavors and sell to larger audiences.
  • Coca Cola has their Social Centres Initiative that utilizes social media to gain consumer insights. They have 40+ centres that are interconnected monitoring over 105 million Facebook fans and over 35 million Twitter followers.
  • In 2015, data mining and artificial intelligence image recognition software was used to garner 20 billion impressions from over 120,000 pieces of social media content. They were able to monitor the Coca Cola brand presence and use the material for future product development. For example, the "Bring Back Surge" social media campaign lead Coca Cola realizing there was a demand and potential market for the 90s drink.
  • According to Patrick Brandt from Coca-Cola they’re using AI and TensorFlow to achieve friction less proof-of-purchase" through the brand's consumer loyalty program. Initially, they tried to use Optical Character Recognition to gather data by having consumers enter a 14-digit code from under their bottle cap into their mobile phones. This proved difficult at times and led to Coca-Cola using Google’s TensorFlow platform so the consumer could take a picture of the bottle cap at 99.97% accuracy, which was beneficial and has resulted in the technology being considered a core component for all of Coca-Cola North America’s web-based promotions."
  • Artificial intelligence (AI bots) will also be used in Coca-Cola's vending machines to further gain consumer insights. Vending machines have user-friendly features such as mixing one's favorite blends and flavors to their liking, mobile payments, and special offers for individual customers. In doing this, Coca-Cola can track sales and consumer preferences.


  • In 2018, Nordstrom started to invest in the company's analytic abilities to stay ahead of the online shopping trends. They began using machine learning for in-store assortment optimization. They specifically use machine learning practices so they can learn from their historical consumer data such as transactions and demographics to predict future customer purchasing trends.
  • By leveraging customer data from email campaigns, click streams and purchases, Nordstrom used machine learning to construct their own "inferred scoring" system. They were then able to improve consumer predictions by giving them accurate suggestions of what they want/need. This lead to a 25% increase in the company's marketing campaign efficiency as well as the email-to-dollar conversion.
  • Nordstrom has partnered with the Slyce to implement a visual search engine to improve consumer experience and increase sales. Consumers can upload an image of product(s) they are shopping for and the tool will suggest the direct product or something similar.
  • In 2018, Nordstrom acquired two startups for mobile clienting and conversational commerce, BevyUp and MessageYes. BevyUp is used by salespeople to establish relationships with shoppers outside of the brick-and-mortar store. MessageYes gives Nordstrom the ability to send personalized recommendations to their customers and only require a simple "yes" response to purchase.
  • Nordstrom then uses the customer data to improve their in-store personalization capabilities.

Research Strategy:

To provide 2-3 case studies of how retailers are using data to bolster revenue, we used sources from business perspectives, research papers and periodicals. We began our search generally for trends that are currently used by big brands to gather big data. We then deduced this down to Coca-Cola to get a perspective that predominately relies on social media and Nordstrom because of their continued brick and mortar success in a time when online shopping arguably prevails. After choosing these companies, we then searched through their home websites to get an idea of the brand and what we read about their tools.

From Part 08
From Part 10
  • "Coca-Cola, one of the biggest companies in the world, is the poster child to show how big data analytics can be used to optimize marketing. It is not only one of the biggest companies in the world, but also, arguably, the biggest brand in the world."
  • "With over 500 soft drink brands being sold to customers in more than 200 countries, the Coca-Cola Company is the largest beverage company in the world. Every day, thirsty consumers drink more than 1.9 billion servings of Coca-Cola products. "
  • "The only way that Coca-Cola will continue increasing profits so that they can increase those dividend payments for another 55 years is by using technology like artificial intelligence, not by engaging with the Tillies of the world."
  • "Retailers are facing intensifying challenges including stagnation in brick-and-mortar sales, increase in e-Commerce offerings and sales, and changes in consumer browsing and purchasing behaviors. Realizing that data is one of its most valuable assets, Nordstrom is leveraging machine learning to secure a competitive advantage, remain afloat and survive the Amazon Era. "
  • "Personalization is a hallmark of online marketing and savvy retailers like Best Buy and Target are bringing it to brick-and-mortar with modern technology."
  • "Nordstrom marketing executive Brian Hovis knows his company is not a tech company. But in an effort to better reach customers and meet their needs, the retailer is getting savvy with artificial intelligence."