In retail, the number one priority is to keep the sales registers ringing, and in the fickle fashion world this can be a tall order.
With a heritage dating back to the eighteenth century, shirt maker Thomas Pink has plenty of experience dealing with the vagaries of the retail business. But like many other retailers, the modern global economy has increased the pressure to modernise.
In 2002, Thomas Pink was purchased by French luxury goods group LVMH, and as a result now uses the group's in-house financial software system to process its financial data and generate financial reports. But, with 39 stores worldwide, the retailer wanted to collate the huge amount of product data generated by each transaction and turn it into meaningful information to drive the business forwards.
Historically, staff had been entering sales and product data into spreadsheets, and using these as the basis of management reports – a lengthy and slow process.
Initially Thomas Pink brought in business intelligence (BI) consultants – Tahola – to identify a solution. They advised that a customised version of PowerPlay OLAP tool from Cognos would provide enhanced product performance and improved customer behaviour analysis.
Now the day's data is loaded into a data warehouse immediately after stores close, and staff in the London and New York headquarters can analyse the previous day's activity to identify trends.
"The Cognos PowerPlay cubes allow us to provide information on sales, discounts, items and units sold, the number and average value of transactions and the customer conversion rate – the number of people who actually buy something in the shop – as well as general sales trends," explains Peter Mila, Thomas Pink's IT and distribution director.
Key performance indicators – a vital facet in planning for the future, driving sales and identifying trends – help Thomas Pink earmark new markets for growth and follow the performance of new products lines, down to colours and sizes, as they hit the shop floor.
Mila reports that, for the IT department, the management overhead of running the tools is minimal. The tools have proved to be intuitive, enabling users to both customise reports and drill down to make sense of figures that they do not understand. Most importantly, they can generate their own queries without being totally dependent on the IT department.
Thomas Pink recouped its original £60,000 investment in the Cognos OLAP tool in just six months. "It's the non-financial benefits that are the real asset to the business," says Mila. "The ease of access to information is priceless."