REI stays competitive with clear customer insights for a personalized retail experience


Insights drove new member acquisition recovery in 2017
Elevate competitive industry advantage with analytics
Reduced time to insights with IT and business collaboration

REI, the nation’s largest consumer co-op and specialty outdoor retailer, has brick and mortar and digital presence with 150 stores in 36 states and 16 million members. A well-known Pacific Northwest institution with Seattle area headquarters, REI began as a group of 23 mountain climbers and evolved to nearly 12,000 employees. With growth and popularity, REI has quickly accumulated an abundance of customer data. With this data in hand—from transactions online and in-store, operations information and buyer demographics—one primary objective for REI is providing a more personalized customer experience.

With Tableau adoption across the organization, supported by a collaborative relationship between business units and IT, REI has streamlined data analysis efforts. Today, teams are more effective at gathering and assessing key customer insights to elevate REI’s impact in the marketplace, driving a better customer experience and influencing business strategy.

For REI it's incredibly important for us to think about how we can leverage analytics as a competitive advantage to discover insights and provide a better customer experience for the customers that we've serviced for 78 years—and continue to do so in the future.

Enhanced customer analytics support REI’s competitive advantage

Like many retailers, REI has an abundance of customer data, equivalent to more than 90 terabytes. The differentiator is REI’s co-op membership. Co-op members contribute to REI’s success and account for more than 90 percent of purchases with the retailer. With members’ active engagement, the co-op has access to critical customer data, leveraging it to create a more personal experience—particularly online.

To compete against e-commerce and brick-and-mortar competitors, REI has moved from Excel tables housing billions of rows of data to advanced analytics in Tableau. Today, various teams utilize Tableau dashboards to uncover the most important insights and apply them towards an improved customer experience. The REI team now monitors metrics like: attribution, customer lifetime value, customer and member counts, churn and retention rates, items per order, price per item and frequency of trips across digital and brick-and-mortar stores.

By analyzing acquisition, retention, and reactivation metrics in Tableau, teams determine the trade-offs of investing in retail stories versus digital experiences. Based on these metrics, REI teams have also developed enhanced member lifecycle programs to increase customer loyalty and repeat sales. “We’ve seen a complete turnaround in 2017 with new member acquisition,” says Clinton Fowler, Director of Customer and Advanced Analytics.

From an operations perspective, the team also uses Tableau to analyze customer segmentations, which inform decisions like shipping methods, member lifecycle management, and product category assortments.

“For REI it's incredibly important for us to think about how we can leverage analytics as a competitive advantage to discover insights and provide a better customer experience for the customers that we've serviced for 78 years—and continue to do so in the future,” explained Clinton.

I think Tableau is at the forefront of shaping a culture of analytics at REI.

REI marketing team optimizes impact and maximizes digital investments

Looking to the future, REI uses analytics to set strategic imperatives and uncover opportunities that will create the greatest impact with customers.

“We've got limited income and limited revenue to actually put towards those investments and so analytics and the metrics are really helping us start to identify what our key opportunities are, where we can get our growth, and we can focus our efforts on those big opportunities.”

With Tableau, REI marketing teams analyze customer personas to understand demographic splits by factors like gender or ethnicity. These insights impact everything from the way that REI displays content on its website or targets emails to paid channel strategy. They can also look at the influence of promotions on purchasing behavior and better understand the triggering point in campaigns to determine if they influence more than one purchase.

By segmenting its customers and using Tableau to perform an overlay analysis, REI uses the resulting insights to better structure email and direct mail programs and drive more than a 20 percent improvement in both. More importantly, customers receive a more personal experience through REI’s communications.

Omni-channel programs create holistic customer view

With an omni-channel business, REI sees the value of blending the brick and mortar and digital worlds together for one full view of a customer. “We see an experience that traverses both channels, so omni-channel analytics is incredibly important to REI,” said Clinton.

With Tableau dashboards, REI’s business divisions, from marketing to operations, consolidate data from a Netezza data warehouse, which has over 75 different data sources ranging from point of sale, Google AdWords, FedEx, and more. With all of this data in one view, they can analyze the complete customer journey, from buying patterns to marketing engagement. With this 360-degree view, REI also puts the customer experience at the center of every business decision—impacting everything from store operations to the e-commerce purchasing experience.

At the moment, one focus for the company is evergreen reporting and Tableau dashboards with web functionality are at the core. Evergreen reporting—data delivered on a daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual basis—uses a standard set of customer metrics and helps everyone from executives to managers and subject matter experts implement programs, see their impact on the metrics and make needed changes.

“In the face of the consumer shifts that are happening right now—including the brick and mortar stores to digital and online purchasing—one of the core things at REI is the ability to actually take the data accessible to us, put that into Tableau, discover the insights, and actually have those insights drive our strategy and drive a better customer experience.”

IT brings production-grade technology and services, particularly vital investments around reliability, accessibility, scalability, performance and support.

Partnership between IT and business leads to critical customer insights

Historically, REI analysts spent 80 percent of their time and effort in data preparation and considering how to best convey insights for business consumption and action. With Tableau, that is now a one-time effort and data analysis is so much easier—cutting an average of ten to fifteen hours per week for analysts and data scientists.

REI currently has upwards of 1,200 dashboards shared over Tableau Server—bringing scalability and accessibility to its analysts, data scientists and subject matter experts.

REI fosters a collaborative culture across the company and this translates to the relationship between IT and business units. REI business analysts curate the data and make it available to subject matter experts, with IT governance and support. Business divisions build the data prototypes and IT develops the foundational, production-grade datasets while the business focuses on developing and delivering actionable Tableau dashboards.

As Clinton explains, “IT brings production-grade technology and services, particularly vital investments around reliability, accessibility, scalability, performance and support.” For REI, exploratory analysis in Tableau helps a variety of teams discover the depth and severity of a shift in channel behavior, including the customer segments that are driving growth.

To nurture this collaboration, teams commit to these five measures: co-locating to build trust and engage face-to-face; holding a monthly IT and business leadership meeting to communicate more openly; distributing weekly project updates; scheduling a collaborative requirement gathering to better understand needs; and staying true to holding regular one-on-one meetings.

“I think Tableau is at the forefront of shaping a culture of analytics at REI,” says Clinton.

In the face of the consumer shifts that are happening right now, one of the core things at REI is the ability to actually take the data accessible to us, put that into Tableau, discover the insights, and actually have those insights drive our strategy and a better customer experience.

Stronger data culture impacts long-term business strategy

REI teams are committed to creating a culture of analytics across the company—making an impact all the way up to the C-suite.

With Tableau as the critical tool, REI evangelizes and educates its audiences (i.e. the analysts, managers and subject matter experts) on data insights in a few ways. Examples include: lunch and learns, “data literacy” sessions, one-to-many “reporting the news” sessions, and more.

REI executives have taken notice of the impact of data analysis, recognizing that enterprise-wide Tableau adoption is vital to keeping a pulse on both strategic initiatives and daily operations.

The REI journey to a culture of analytics involved important investments in data preparation and data source curation and delivering insights at the speed of business and the results have been critical to REI’s mission of creating a market-leading customer experience.

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