It’s time once more for SLR’s annual vox pop from all four corners of the industry to find out what they think will be the important opportunities and challenges that lie ahead of us for 2020.

Tom Fender

Tom Fender

Development Director, The Whole Sale Company (TWC)

The annual ‘new trends next year’ articles typically focus on new foods we’re allegedly going to be eating (but often don’t), the latest names of consumer groups to target, or revolutionary technologies which will improve our lives. All of these are valid. The world changes and we must all change with it. But there is one area which I don’t believe has had much attention in the convenience sector to date… but it’s a potential game-changer… and that area is: data.

When the directors of Dunnhumby presented the results of their three-month pilot of gathered shopper data to the Board of Tesco in 1994, a deathly silence apparently fell across the Boardroom… until Lord Ian Maclaurin (Chairman) declared in a rather annoyed and terse tone: “You know more about my shoppers in 12 weeks than I know about them after over a decade of running this business.”

Now, I don’t mean to be controversial at this festive time of the year but when I hear businesses big and small say they “know their customers”, I reflect on the fact that I have sat in at least 1,000 presentations or meetings about ‘the customer’ where knowledge on ‘the customer’ is actually quite sparse. I think we want to think we know the customer. But the reality is, most of us know some customers, some of the time. But often decisions are made without robust data to make a fully informed decision. As Sherlock Holmes said: “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data.”

Without data, businesses are blind and deaf and in the middle of a motorway. If the convenience sector is to stay ahead of the competition in 2020, we will need to start using the ‘goldmine’ of data we sit on. I don’t believe many businesses in the sector are doing this. How many Chief Data Officers exist in the UK convenience sector? Will this be the next big job function in our industry?

Wholesalers have an opportunity to become data-driven organisations to support their independent retailers. Retailers can use data to understand what’s working, and what’s not on their smartphones or laptops. Data can report performance by SKU, by store, by region, by time of day, and by day of the week. Sales figures can be merged with a host of other data sets to inform management and indicate how to improve performance. Organisations who use data well perform better than the organisations who don’t.

For me, it’s the companies who utilise and exploit their data as central to their digital engine room will be the big winners in 2020 and beyond… because data is the new oil.