Using data for workplace decisions: a lesson from the retail sector


  • Advice

19 December 2019


In summer 2019, IWFM and technology provider Ricoh invited professionals from a range of backgrounds to a roundtable discussion on ‘creating the employee-centred workplace’. The fruitful conversations which resulted gave us our first article on politics vs data. This time we’re covering what workplace and facilities management professionals can learn from how data is used in another sector – in this case, retail.

With technology advancing and proliferating at ever-quickening rates, data has never been more accessible. In fact, analytics have become commonplace since the emergence of data-driven social media platforms, which rely heavily on personal information, preferences and behaviours to serve both consumers (users) and clients (organisations buying advertising).

However, despite its evident value, most organisations don’t optimise how they use data. Are there lessons for the workplace and facilities management profession in other sectors?

‘[From] a retail perspective, we’ve been using data for years,’ said a senior property services manager from an organisation that manages a vast portfolio, including retail buildings, retail parks and shopping centres across the UK.

By utilising quantitative and qualitative methods, their organisation was able to measure a number of metrics for a major UK shopping centre.

‘You used to get sales, footfall, dwell time; you’d also do guest research where people would spend seven-to-ten minutes filling out a form saying how they felt. It's all the information about how a centre's run, what's going on, what they liked and disliked. Actually, it really should be called rich data because it really gave us phenomenal insight into what we should be doing to effectively create the right space.’

As an example of where data was applied successfully, they recalled a time that a major men’s clothes store wasn’t attracting customers. After a lot of research, they found the solution: move it closer to other men’s clothes stores.

The data told them that men’s shopping behaviours and preferences were best served by a variety of options in close proximity: they will buy a selection of items from multiple shops, spending disparate amounts depending on the item (e.g. cheap t-shirts vs expensive designer jackets), and return again because they enjoy the variety.

There were some concerns and criticism from stakeholders, not least the existing stores in the area; the threat of upsetting the apple cart loomed large. Confident in what the data was telling them, they pushed ahead and the plan worked - the research was validated. In fact, applying data ‘changed the perception of how [the shopping centre] was designed’ and ‘now retail is driven by data; it's all driven by experience, engaging with people, creating the right environment to get people to come back and advocate [for the store]’.

There are parallels with the workplace discipline here, particularly its role in creating an efficient and effective work environment which: facilitates productive workspaces; fosters contentment in the workforce; and encourages company loyalty while attracting new talent. Intelligent use of data can inform small or even disruptive changes that make the difference between success and failure – or success and greater success.

Is your organisation making wise data-driven workplace decisions? For advice on using data in your organisation, check out our latest Guidance Note produced in partnership with Ricoh: Making better workplace decisions using data.