Months of store closures and stop-start lockdowns. An accelerated shift to e-commerce driven by changing consumer habits and preferences. Retailers have had to build operational resilience and flexibility into their store estates and workforce, while ensuring the highest levels of health and safety in stores to keep both customers and employees safe.
These are just some of the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the risk landscape for retailers.
In this episode of Retails Systems podcast, editor Hannah McGrath sits down with Helen Sutton, SVP of EMEA and APAC Sales at Dataminr, to discuss how real-time data is helping retailers manage emerging risks—across physical and online channels—to ensure they stay ahead of events as they occur.
For the full interview, listen to the podcast below or read the transcript that follows, which has been edited for clarity and length.
How has the past 18 months changed the risk landscape and what role has real-time information played for retailers during this very, very tumultuous time?
The last 18 months have been exceptional in terms of change for all of us, but in particular for retail. It is actually just the constant changes that have been brought on and have been cascaded by the pandemic—if we think about just how fast information has been needed, where information has come from, who has needed it, and how quickly it has spread. That's really accelerated the pace of risks that retailers are experiencing.
So, just as an example, we always talk about household names when we talk about retailers. But my local garden center, which is family run, became an e-commerce site during the lockdown because it needed to take orders and do deliveries. So, they moved to click and collect.
We've seen everybody—from the large, multi-branch retailers to the global ones—go through so significant change. Even prior to the pandemic, if you think about what's been going on as a sort of pure brick and mortar play, retailers have been going through a lot of challenges and are battling against pure e-commerce plays. That has just accelerated
I saw some really interesting data recently from McKinsey, which shows that the consumer behavior we’ve seen over the last 18 months will likely continue. So, we're still going to see fewer physical store visits and more online shopping. Think about what that means in terms of risks. There are a lot of health and safety considerations to take into account—wearing masks, social distancing, contact-less interactions and the like—and retailers have to create the bridge to e-commerce.
When I think about some of our customers and how they've been dealing with it, they've absolutely needed real-time information to help them know how to manage staffing for the store openings, how to keep their assets safe while they've not been in use. A lot going on. It's been quite an extraordinary time.
There’s been a huge amount of change and disruption over the past 18 months, and just in a wider sense what are the key types of critical risk facing the retail industry today?
It’s a pretty long list, obviously. The risks that any enterprise, in particular retail, face. The way we look at it at Dataminr, there are four groups of risks: operational, reputational, crisis management and cyber. Each has different requirements and different needs for information.
For example, if I think about operational risk and what that looks like for retailers, they are protecting their people, stores and warehouses, which calls for a focus on executive protection, physical security, and travel safety—if you can remember the days when people were traveling.
I touched on the opening and closing of stores. We see our customers using real-time information to make decisions on whether they should be boarding up their storefronts. If their stores are going to be closed in prime city center locations, they have to make sure to protect those facilities.
When we talk about critical risks and then in general in retail, one of the things that we've observed is that it's quite important that each department knows who owns each of the different risks. Because as things evolve—which can happen quickly, especially if you’re in a crisis—it's critical that all four risk groups are brought together and coordinated in a joint fashion. We really, really encourage people to look carefully at any existing siloes, how departments can communicate and how they can come together.
You mentioned there's a variety of physical safety and security risks, what is the value of real time information for retailers in overcoming this kind of challenge and how can the use of real time information improve reputational risk management?
Information travels at the speed of the internet these days. For better or for worse that's the world that we're living in. Any company can be caught off guard with a brand crisis. Social media and news can actually be way ahead of corporations that end up playing catch up.
In recent months, we've obviously seen a lot of stories around working conditions in the press. What we look at on the reputational side of things is, how can we help organizations. How can they limit the pending crisis by knowing what's happening and how can we alert organizations so that they've actually got that holistic view of everything that could impact their brand and reputation.
For example, the impact of COVID-19 on retailers’ day-to-day operations and how they are viewed by the public. Are customers in stores? Are they following masking rules? Are those rules being enforced? Who’s wearing PPE (personal protective equipment)? We see that organizations have the opportunity to get ahead of any negative outcomes or coverage in real time, before they go viral.
When it comes to supply chain disruption, what role can real-time information play in a retailer's response and preparedness for this kind of thing?
Lots going on and actually. When it comes to supply chain, we've seen real-time information be invaluable to organizations. It helps them to make key decisions such as whether or not to change their shipping plans. Do they air freight, reroute? Real-time information also helps them make decisions about where they should hold their stock.
Should they hold them in warehousing and distribution centers or move them closer to market, and try to anticipate when a country might be shutting a border. That's kind of a big picture from a global point of view.
The other way that real-time information is sort of interesting for a retailer is a very, very local point of view. You have a breaking event, whatever the source of that is, and can then stay abreast of what’s happening as things unfold. It’s one of the ways we see organizations really benefit from having relevant, up-to-date information.
How can data platforms help to inform the wider business strategy through better use of let's say market intelligence and to build operational resilience in that way?
We've talked about a number of operational risks and how important it is that the decision makers on the frontline actually have the information that they need. So, quite interesting for your listeners to know. We have around more than 200,000 public information sources that are integrated into our real-time alerting platform; 95% of those didn't exist in 2009.
When we talk about data platforms constantly having to stay ahead, you can just think that in the next 10 years, the majority of datasets that we’ll have, they probably don’t exist today.
As we've talked about, in order to understand what's happening with your information as things evolve, give your decision makers a clear line of sight into risks that are developing. You want to make sure they can stay ahead with real-time information.
Interestingly, when we talk about real-time information, it can be really broad, from social media to information sensors. There are also blogs and information on the deep and dark web. It's extraordinary how much information that's out there. In order to be able to absorb all of that, you need the right technology architecture in place. The future for retailers is going to be really, really fascinating.
How can listeners learn more about Dataminr?
We'd be delighted to hear from listeners. They can visit our website to learn more about what real-time information is and how Dataminr Pulse—our real-time AI platform for detecting the earliest signals of high-impact events and emerging risks for the enterprise—can help them protect their people and assets.
Helen Sutton is Senior Vice President of EMEA & APAC Sales at Dataminr. She has 20 years of experience in enterprise software across multiple industry sectors. Prior to joining Dataminr, she held several sales leadership roles, including those held at Splunk, DocuSign and SAP.