How Leading Retail Companies Use Sigma

Daniel Codella

Data Evangelist at Sigma

2019 was a record year for retail store closures, with 9500 going out of business. The dust is still settling, but it’s pretty clear 2020 will beat that number with as many as 25,000 stores closing. Some of the country’s most iconic retailers like GNC, Pier 1, Neimann Marcus, JCPenney, J Crew and dozens more have either declared bankruptcy or shut their doors for good.

But the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only factor to blame. Retailers have been struggling with a perfect storm of internal and external challenges for years now:

Digital disruption – The customer journey has exploded to up to 62 touch-points across multiple, increasingly digital channels.

Evolving customer expectations – Today’s customer demands a seamless and personalized experience, and is quick to look for alternative options if they feel those expectations are not being met.

Siloed technology infrastructure – Digital disruption has introduced dozens of new systems that are difficult to integrate together, leaving retailers with siloed data and disjointed workflows.

Diminishing brand loyalty – Gen-Z is quick to abandon traditional retailers in favor of tech-forward upstarts delivering polished, integrated, and novel experiences.

How Sigma Can Help

While some retailers went bust, others like Ulta, Old Navy, BJ’s Wholesale, Home Depot, and Target are thriving through disruption and seeing record profits. What’s their secret?

Leading retailers leverage data analytics to exceed customer expectations, identify and capitalize on trends, optimize their operations, and reduce costs. All of these organizations have three traits in common:

  • They fully embrace and leverage the cloud to seamlessly and securely integrate and process their data
  • They invest in robust analytics tools that scale with their needs and the ever-expanding volume and variety of data
  • They empower as many people as possible to access and explore data so that they can make data-driven decisions fast

Sigma is the tool of choice for this new generation of savvy retailers at the forefront of this transformation. Three key elements propel Sigma to the front of the pack:

It’s built for the cloud

Sigma is purpose-built for Snowflake’s Data Cloud and cloud data platforms like BigQuery and Redshift, and is uniquely positioned to take full advantage of their speed, security, and sheer power.

It’s uniquely scalable

With Sigma, you can analyze billions of rows of live data down to the lowest level of detail, effortlessly grow and diversify your data sources, and seamlessly integrate dozens of datasets in just a few clicks.

It has a powerful, yet familiar user interface

Sigma’s interface is one most people already know and love — a spreadsheet. That means anyone in the company can go beyond high-level dashboards, ask questions and get answers from their data, and build on each other’s work without having to know code or extract data.

Let’s take a brief look at how Sigma can and is transforming departments across the retail org at three leading retail companies.


How Olivela’s BI Team Slashes Ad-hoc Reporting to Focus on the Most Impactful Work

Olivela is a luxury fashion platform with a twist: A portion of every purchase helps fund a charitable cause that improves the lives of children in need throughout the world.

It’s a data-driven operation, with a growing volume of SKUs, transactions, and vendors to manage. The problem was that only two people at the company had deep SQL knowledge. “This mismatch creates a bottleneck of time and understanding,” says Dominic Go, Olivela’s Director of Analytics.

Instead of high-value work like creating and improving data models and opening up new data sources, Dominic and his team found themselves in report factory hell. The solution? Adopt a modern BI tool that could enable more line of business users to conduct their own data analyses and free up the BI team to do more rewarding and impactful work.

After investigating a variety of options, the team chose Sigma based on its scalability, overall ease of use, and ability to connect directly to the Snowflake Data Cloud.

“Sigma lets the domain experts at Olivela solve business problems without my technical data analytics help.”

Dominic Go

Director of Analytics at Olivela

“One of the things that’s been great about teaching Sigma to our business users and business analysts is that I can introduce them to Sigma flat and within 20 minutes I’m not even touching the mouse anymore. They’re doing all the driving and they’re building the reports that they need. They’re able to build more effective reports than I could build with [the tool we were using previously]….It would take me a day or two to get what they can get done in 20 minutes,” explains Go.

Olivela’s business experts use Sigma to explore different options in how to visualize data, experimenting to find the ones that work best for their needs. They’re also able to generate impactful reports, such as aggregating average selling prices with average order values to figure out the cost per order across various categories.

“Sigma is closing the distinction at Olivela between a data expert and a business expert—which means more people at the company making better decisions,” Go says. In turn, Olivela’s BI team is now free to focus on the more complex, strategic-level data analytics that assist with future planning.


How Lovepop Optimizes Online Product Recommendations and Increases Transactions

Lovepop is an innovative company that designs amazing pop-up cards, flower arrangements, and other gifts that are perfect for celebrating holidays, milestones, and everyday moments. With an internationally based manufacturing facility, it’s critical for Lovepop to optimize their inventory to ensure the right products are shown to site visitors and available when they purchase.

The Lovepop team turned to Sigma to help them harness the most value out of their data and optimize multiple parts of their business. One area that is already seeing impressive results is merchandising and inventory management. “Sigma is a critical piece in the process used to optimize our inventory,” says Tophi Rose, Director, Analytics & Data at Lovepop.

“We use Sigma to quickly surface information about our inventory position which enables our sales and planning teams to make the best decisions possible.”

Tophi Rose

Director, Analytics & Data at Lovepop

Sigma is helping the Lovepop team analyze product affinity — figuring out which products, and which aspects of those products, are increasing conversions. “At the end of each season, we use Sigma to create a detailed report to assess which product types and characteristics were successful,” explains Rose.

“This report is used as a basis for determining which types of products we want to design in the future. For example, we have had a lot of success with our flower bouquets. By understanding how well this product category is doing, we can justify investing more resources into developing additional products within that line. “

These reports also help the team at Lovepop optimize which products are recommended to visitors on their digital storefront, leading to increased sales and higher customer satisfaction. Some of the insights Sigma has been able to surface have been surprising.

“I had always assumed that fall and Thanksgiving products had similar selling windows,” says Rose. “However, this year I used Sigma to look into this hypothesis and found that fall product sales peak several weeks before Thanksgiving products. Understanding this insight allows us to better plan our design schedules as well as our inventory replenishment schedules.”

As the Lovepop team continues to integrate their datasets, Sigma is playing a key role in the marketing, sales, and delivery of their products. “At this point, this project is still in its infancy,” Rose explains. “We have done several ad hoc analyses and built some of the rough framework. Ultimately, the vision is to have a complete view of each sales order — from the customer journey up until the point when the sales are made, and through the inventory planning and fulfillment required to support the order. Once these datasets are built and joined, our analysts use Sigma to investigate and find useful insights for the business.”


How a Multinational Electronics and Electrical Equipment Company Builds Customer 360s and Increases Campaign ROI

The sales of a highly recognized producer of home and office equipment like printers, scanners, sewing machines, and other creative tools was heavily dependent on big box retailers like Staples, Best Buy, and Office Depot. As those chains face increasing market volatility, they knew they needed to invest in direct-to-consumer marketing to mitigate risk.

The goal was to enable their marketing team to comb through massive data sets to create rich customer profiles and deliver personalized experiences based on things like email habits, past purchases, what they own, what they click on, and dozens of other factors.

The problem was their existing BI tool couldn’t handle the scale of the 100 million+ row tables in Snowflake’s Data Cloud. As a result, their marketing team was unable to create the customer profiles they needed. Even worse, it left the organization at the mercy of big box retailers to drive sales and revenue. To turn things around, they needed to find a tool that was powerful enough to provide granular access to tables with enormous amounts of data, but that could also still be used independently by business users without specialized coding skills. Sigma fit the bill.

The company’s marketing team is now able to self-serve and answer ad-hoc questions against hundreds of millions of rows of data. This new-found ability to quickly understand customer and prospect behaviors, needs, and desires is helping them improve email content, customer retention, and sales revenue.


How Blue Bottle Cuts Costs, Reduces Waste, and Maximizes Revenue

As one of the most popular third wave coffee roasters, Blue Bottle Coffee has experienced meteoric growth with nearly 100 brick-and-mortar locations and a popular online store. This multi-channel approach introduces all kinds of complexity when it comes to inventory, supply chain, and even planning the expansion of their physical stores.

To manage this complexity and unify their data, Blue Bottle needed a scalable data analytics solution that could tap into their single source of truth — their cloud data platform. “We’ve invested significant engineering effort into building new data sets in our data warehouse the last two years,” explains Lucy Dana, Chief of Staff at Blue Bottle. “Having the data exist is a great first step, but getting people to use it was our latest challenge.”Sigma was selected to help democratize data across their headquarters and fuel more data-driven decision making. “My goal was to enable anyone—from our VPs to our green coffee buyers—to pull data and make informed decisions without having to be a SQL guru or ping our Business Ops team,” says Dana.

“We’re not just a retail company—we collect omnichannel data every day across our cafes, our web-store, and our mobile app. The fun comes when we tie these data points together to make decisions.” Within weeks of implementation, Sigma was helping their operations team cut costs and maximize revenue. One example has been in helping their 90+ locations better optimize their ordering of baked goods.

“Our cafe leaders were spending hours each week struggling with this manual ordering process,” recalls Dana. “They were trying to look at their historical sales numbers, guessing what their demand would be, and then placing pastry orders on that information. We’re now using data analytics and machine learning to help reduce food waste. We recently partnered with a machine learning consultancy to help us build an algorithm to predict our culinary demand. They were able to look at past sales, future demand, weather, and holidays to predict how many pastries each cafe should order.”

“We rolled this out to our cafes in July, and now we use Sigma to measure the delta between the orders and our model predictions. We then work with specific cafes to coach them further and reduce the waste gap. So far, the results have been exciting. We have increased our order accuracy by 8% since July.”

Lucy Dana

Chief of Staff at Blue Bottle

Sigma is also helping Blue Bottle determine the best markets and regions to expand their brick-and-mortar locations. “Using the map chart feature in Sigma, we charted the zip codes of our subscribers who live outside of our core markets—these are our most loyal guests who get coffee shipped to their house each week,” Dana explains. “This analysis helped inform our next real estate investments as we try to bring Blue Bottle to new markets and connect our coffee to as many people as possible.”

Data Analytics Is Paving the Way Towards A Brighter Future

The future looks bright for the retailers leading digital transformation. While it’s true they face formidable challenges, they also have powerful tools at their disposal that can help them not just survive, but thrive through disruption.

Armed with a modern BI and data exploration solution like Sigma, retailers can take full advantage of the possibilities of the cloud. It’s a tool that can scale along with and support their growth as the world grows increasingly digital. And every department can start getting immediate value out of Sigma because of its powerful spreadsheet interface.

When everyone can access, analyze, and make decisions based on data, companies can move faster than the competition and seize more market share.

To learn more about how Sigma can help you harness the full power of your retail data, click here.

Are you ready to see how Sigma can transform your organization?