Tableau highlights work with retailers like Yeti and Pepsi

The analytics company is hoping to make it easier for people without a technical background to gain business insights from its data.

Retailers are on a never-ending journey to learn more about their customers and business challenges, making data visualization software companies like Tableau more important than ever.

At the National Retail Federation's 2020 Big Show in New York, Tableau gave retailers a chance to see how its platform worked and held a jam-packed session featuring Yeti, the popular outdoor lifestyle manufacturer. 

Sam Santos, data visualization developer at Yeti Coolers, spoke at length about how the company transitioned from hard-to-use spreadsheets to Tableau's platform, which gave his team an entire suite of tools allowing them to manipulate data in innovative ways. 

"What everyone wants to do with their data is to be able to start telling the future. But you can't tell the future if you don't know what's happening in your business today. And you can't tell what's happening in your business today if you don't know what happened yesterday," Santos said. 

"This is where we start with Yeti, making sure we have good data and a foundation to tell what have we done and where have we come from. That is helping us understand more about how we're doing today," he said.  

"From there, we have our foundation laid out and we can start focusing on the future, looking forward and being prescriptive by using predictive analytics. There's a lot of data to sift through and this is where we get benefits out of Tableau." 

SEE: Data analytics: A guide for business leaders (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Santos went on to explain that Tableau's platform gave Yeti the ability to import data easily and to start recognizing patterns while also providing visualization tools as well. 

Yeti went from giving sales representatives monthly Excel sheets to providing stores with daily reports and visualizations that allowed for quicker decision-making.

Yeti sales representatives can now see how big sales affect commissions or sales targets, and the Tableau platform gave the company answers to critical business questions. 

Yeti, like many retailers, needed to know what the best-selling products are each year, what will be the best-selling products next year, how do e-commerce sales affect retail stores, how sales from their website differ from sales through Amazon and dozens of other key data points that can have a huge effect on how a business is organized. 

Tableau allowed Yeti to organize data based on location, providing  greater insight into online sales versus brick-and-mortar sales as well as differences between rural and urban locales. 

"When you're looking for new customers and new accounts and you want broader reach within a community, you can start applying these patterns and sharing them with our different accounts and customers and saying 'hey, someone like you down the street is doing really well with our product, you should buy it too.' We've taken this back to our sales reps and provided this data and patterns to know what to focus on and to push certain things," Santos said. 

In an interview, Charles Schaefer, Tableau senior manager of competitive intelligence, spoke about dozens of other retailers that were able to solve business pain points by using the Tableau platform to address urgent questions. 

One of the key improvements the Tableau team has made to the platform is simplifying it so people without a technical background can use it. 

"Over the past few years, we've started to look at how we make it scale to more people. How do you make sure the technology can work and can you give it to tens or hundreds of thousands of people?" Schaefer said. 

"When we talk to retail investors, they tell us 'we need to understand demand,' and 'we need to get better insights really quickly.' They say 'we need to know how demand occurs across the entire supply chain and we can't afford to wait for an analyst to build a report for them.'"  

"Some of the investments we've made in the last few years include things like a piece of our platform that allows people to just type a question of data in natural language and get a response. That's intended for that non-technical user who maybe doesn't know how to do a SQL query or doesn't know how to use an analytics product but knows they can do something better with their job."

Schaefer cited Tableau's work with major retailers and companies like Pepsi as examples of the value the company can bring to major retailers.

With Pepsi, Tableau's platform helped officials plan and forecast when to restock warehouses or stores with their products.

Pepsi used just one platform to gather data on restocking as well as financial planning, combining two disparate data elements to streamline its information management systems.  

When it comes to location-based data, the Tableau platform gives retailers information on where most transactions are occuring, which stores are selling the highest number of a specific product and much more. 

The system works to help retailers plan the physical layout of stores, giving granular data on where customers are most likely to walk when they enter a store or how certain items perform on specific shelf locations. 

Schaefer added that some of the most interesting conversations he had at NRF 2020 involved retailers looking for new streams of data to use on the Tableau platform, particularly data related to social media. 

Traditionally, retailers may be looking at their sales data or how their salespeople perform depending on where their stores are. But now, social media can often provide new sources of data that can inform how they address consumer demand. There was no better example of this than the fidget spinner, Schaefer said. 

"They mentioned it as this product that was sort of a flash in the pan that they wish they could have understood there was demand for sooner. They got really popular, really fast and then they kind of disappeared. They told us that if they could have used Twitter or something where people were talking about these products or others that they're interested in to get an understanding of demand sooner, it could have had a huge impact on our revenue," he said.

Companies, he added, are looking to do more text-based analysis or sentiment analysis through social media to understand what the conversation is around products to help meet that demand sooner. 

"I thought that was an interesting use case that fits really well into how Tableau works because you can combine that social media data with other data that you have in your organization," Schaefer stated. "Tableau is very flexible in how it allows you to connect lots of different data sources." 

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