"Retailers need the answers straight away—the most effective way to do that is Tableau"

John Hogan, Founder and Chief Data Scientist at the Dublin-based start-up, Real World Retail, explains how he uses Tableau to quickly analyze large amounts of data in order to support faster, more accurate decision-making. To hear a real-life story about how Real World Retail is helping Irish retailer Pamela Scott improve merchandising decisions, watch John's second video.

Tableau: How are visual analytics particularly useful in the retail industry?
John Hogan, Founder and Chief Data Scientist: Retailers are very busy people. And so they need to know the answers pretty much straight away. And basically, the easiest way to do that—or the most effective way to do that—is by doing visuals first on Tableau.

They can get a picture what's happening in about ten seconds; they can read the visual. And then from that, basically, they can get actions out of there that gives them the extra piece of information to make the decisions they need to make.

Tableau: How is your company using Tableau?
John: At Real World Retail, we have a decision support system built on Tableau. So we've designed a whole system based around how retailers make decisions. So when they have a decision to make, like for presenting them with a visual that's condensing a huge amount of information. And then, basically, from that visual they can see what's happening now. And then we give them a series of actions which is basically shows them just enough information to eliminate a weakness or to maximize an opportunity.

Tableau: What sort of data are you looking at?
John: Mostly we're looking at point-of-sale data. So we have, like, a large amount of data at our fingertips. And so we've got plenty of data to, like, discover and to visualize. And, like, One of the key things Tableau does is, like, it converts huge amounts of data into very simple visualizations and insights.

You can start with what you think like you might see, and then basically when you do your data discovery, invariably, you'll find something else is going on. And so you get to see what is happening in the retailer's business like very easily in a way that wasn't like apparent before.

Tableau: What has the impact been?
John: What we find is a whole new world has opened up in terms of data discovery. And retailers that are using the old methods of fixed reports, basically, are poorly-armed with information compared to when we look at our customers now.

They know everything about everything and they've got thinking time because they can consume their visuals in a fraction of the time... that basically another retailer is looking at reports.

I don't think we would be able to do what we do without Tableau. It gives retailers all the information at their fingertips in a way that they couldn't see before.

Tableau: What sort of retailers do you work with? And what sort of data are you analyzing for them?
John: Our biggest customer is using about 20 million records like that we pull in every day. That takes about 20 minutes to pull in on Tableau and do all the calculations that we do on it.

With Pamela Scott, they have changed their business of how they worked. They've moved from like from being like a high-end retailer to more of a mix of value-driven and high-end based on the data discovery that has been done through Tableau and Real World Retail. And from that, they are really improving their business by having shorter lead times and having more open to buy available so they can like react to customer trends rather than basically being like having the stock already pre bought six months ago.

Tableau: Are you looking at data all from one source or do you blend data from multiple sources?
John: We're connecting to lots of different data sources. Our primary data sources are like EPOS systems, so normally SQL Server or Access or a database like that.

But then, frequently, we find that like a lot more information is held on spreadsheets or text files or whatever. So we pull that in as well and we blend it all together to produce the results that retailers need to see.

Tableau is brilliant at data blending you can like connect to information in lots of different places and then basically you can just pull it all together and present it as one visual. Whereas previously, like, information was in different silos and basically you had to get your information like one report at a time from each silo.

Tableau: Do you ever analyze customer sentiment data?
John: On our pharmacy system, we do wisdom of the crowd. We listen to our customers on the questions that they're asking. And very often, a very innocent question can end up with a gold mine of an insight. So, for example, we had a question on, “How often are my patients coming in?”

From that, with data discovery, we found that basically that retailer was borrowing patients from somebody else. When real -- in reality, they -- what they should have been doing was, like, keeping their own patients. So now they've done a full change of business process to convert the patients that are currently slipping through their fingers.

Tableau: That’s great! Any last thoughts on Tableau?
John: At Real World Retail, we use Tableau as our core product. And I don't think we would be able to do what we do without Tableau. It gives them all the information at their fingertips in a way that they couldn't see before.