Ian McVey

Is Mike Coupe the New Arkwright?

Sainsbury Chairman Mike Coupe draws inspiration from a discreet, interactive website called ‘Trolley Talk’, where 4000 shoppers a week help him to make the right strategic decisions and decide what he puts in his own basket – Argos, for instance.

Of late, Mr Coupe has ditched multi buys in favour of lower prices, refreshed own label products, invested in his collection of 773 smaller convenience stores, diversified from groceries into clothes.

I wholeheartedly applaud Mr Coupe for his initiative, because he has found a bespoke way to attract context with which to dispel the uncertainty and complexity that often comes with data.

Historically, supermarkets have always been the savviest of all consumer facing companies.  If there is one sector that understands data, it’s the UK supermarkets. Only last week, Sainsbury advertised for data scientists with ‘inspirational thinking’ and every computer language under the sun, (SAS, R, Python, SQL, NoSQL, Linux, Power BI, D3 to AWS, Spark, MapReduce, Hive etc).  Other sectors marvel at the focus they place on developing customer relationships, based on complex metrics and a relentless focus on value.

Data, however, is not infallible. Without dialogue it can fail to nail a problem. It might tell you that something is wrong, spotlighting for instance the 70% of prospects who are dropping out of a credit card registration at the last page, but it cannot provide the context that reveals how most of those prospects thought they had submitted the application but had in fact been tripped up by an ambiguously worded last page. To close that loop, a company might brief a research agency with results coming back after the trial marketing period has come to an end.  Mr Coupe’s initiative cuts out the middleman, goes to the heart of the community and solicits real time feedback on the issues raised.

Real time, software enabled insight does much the same thing. It acts in real time, costs little and gives that invaluable context.  It fact checks opinion in real time, all the time, just as competing supermarkets price check each others’ prices.

This easy to use, but immensely powerful technology has become a critical, competitive front end differentiator, not a back office function, in a sector whose core strength is not the commoditised selling of fruit and veg but the fantastically powerful management of its sales and marketing operations. Linked to CRM, integration technology and straight through processing, insight automation is gold dust.

Once upon a time, Albert Arkwright, ably re enacted by Ronny Barker, famously knew everyone in his local community. Ironically, today’s insight technology enables retailers to behave as they did before they came to depend on it, just like that wise, community green grocer. Instead of automating their thinking, technology has enabled retailers to think for themselves and create solutions tailored to their customers’ particular needs.

Mr Coupe knows that, and highlights how CEOs and CIOs in this most competitive of sectors continue to trail blaze, recognising the need for a dynamic engagement strategy based on data from millions of interactions, and informed by a far more personalised 1:1 dialogue.

To borrow somebody else’s catch phrase – “Every little helps”.