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Over the last five years, the Sainsbury’s Property Insight team has been working hard to produce more engaging and usable insight for the business. We have used Alteryx to prepare, blend and analyse our dataset of competitor location and sales impact data – and then Tableau to visualise our insight. This has freed up time, which we can now dedicate to solving business problems and shaping the way our business is able to respond to competition.
Describe the business challenge or problem you needed to solve
I joined the Sainsbury’s Property Analytics & Insight team four years ago, looking after Property Market and Competitor Insight. For years the team had been tracking the location of competitor stores and measuring the impact of competitor estate activity on the Sainsbury’s business. This activity had produced an enormous wealth of data on how Sainsbury’s operated within local retail markets. However, the approach to sharing insight derived from this data was reactive, rather than strategic and proactive. My background is in business insight, so I saw a unique opportunity to take this data and use it to inform the business to bring competitive advantage.
Fortunately, my fabulous spatial analytics colleagues had also invested in Alteryx and Tableau around three years previously. One of the existing analysts in my team, Andrew Meston (@messy_m), had already started working with Alteryx, using this to massively streamline our reporting process. He very quickly showed me how Alteryx could transform the team and translate many years of data into meaningful insight. I was also joined on this journey by Dan Vincent (@DannyV), who joined the team at the same time as me, and Sophie Coley (@Soph), who replaced Andrew, a year or so into my tenure.
The vision was to use Alteryx to prep, blend and summarise our data – and then Tableau to visualise. Our audience of stakeholders were used to static PowerPoint “packs” so this is how we would share our insight for the moment.
Describe your working solution
Our data is held on a system which sits on the salesforce platform. In addition to this, we also work with SQL databases, previously hosted on a server but now on AWS, accessed via the Alteryx Gallery. As a business, however, our main data platform is Snowflake – and we continue to develop how we work with Alteryx and Snowflake together.
The data we are working with is constantly changing, particularly when it comes to the status and launch dates of future competitor sites. Therefore, the ability to connect directly into salesforce and run a workflow in seconds has been vital in providing up to date insight into the business.
Workflow Example: Annual Impact Update
Primarily we have been using Designer to prep, blend and tabulate the data we need to present to our stakeholders. However, given we are working with location-based insight, we also make significant use of the Alteryx spatial functions. Our wider team work extensively with Server and we will be looking at solutions for this in the future.
Once we have got the data set up right, we export directly into Tableau to begin work on visualising our data. We particularly love the ability to “play” in Tableau to seek out the story the data is telling. Often, this play will generate new ideas on how to interpret and analyse the data. Therefore, I love the fact that it is easy to drop back into Alteryx, manipulate data further and then send it back to Tableau with the click of the run button.
Output Example: Visualising Estate Activity
In addition to having the right tech stack in place, it was important to look for the right opportunities to go after. We did this by, firstly, reviewing our Business as Usual (BAU) activities and looking at how could we streamline, automate and visualise these better. We also logged the questions we were being asked and built workflows and visualisations for the most frequently asked questions. This mean that insight could be updated and shared within 5 minutes when required. In addition to this, everyone who came to us with a question, got invited for coffee. We took this opportunity to ask them what competitor location insight would help them in their roles – and what would be the best way of sharing this with their teams.
Having the right colleagues has also been key to this journey. Dan has always kept a cool head, always rising to the challenge and looking for new ways to improve what we do with Alteryx. Sophie has been instrumental in taking forward our data visualisations and reporting – always keeping in mind the best way to convey insight.
We were also very lucky to be supported at varying stages of our Alteryx journey by four key colleagues in our wider team – Iain Sterland (@iain_sterland), my Manager, Dr Tim Rains (@timrains), Joe Serpis (@JosephSerpis) and Samantha Hughes (@samanthaj_hughes), who is now, of course, an Alteryx Ace. Sam, in particular, took us through an intensive bespoke Alteryx course and inspired us all to get certified. I’m proud to say that Dan and I are now Alteryx Advanced certified, with Sophie Core Certified, and working towards her Advanced Certification.
Describe the benefits you have achieved
I often like to say that going through this process has allowed us to free ourselves from the “Day-to-day data drudgery”. We were spending significant time producing 7 excel based reports in every 4-week period. We now send out 3 per period, which are much more insight focused. They include data visualisations and market commentary where relevant. We received excellent feedback on these new reports with senior Property and Retail leaders replying to let us know how great they thought they were.
In addition to this, when I first joined the business, we were being asked questions on competitor performance that would take us weeks to answer. Now, we can often turn this around on the same day, allowing the business to make quick decisions.
Going through this process has enabled us to transform what we do and spend most of our time using data from across the business to advise on challenges we know the most about. Our time has gone from 80% BAU work: 20% ad-hoc insight to the other way round.
Some of the activities we have been able to undertake as a result of the efficiency include understanding how competitor openings affect different categories and how to target in-store investment accordingly and using predictive models to understand the impact and the role concessions and different services play within our stores.
Put simply we can just give better insight quicker: I started my career in market research, where data interpretation would mean 100 pages of printed tables and a highlighter! That didn’t make sense to me even then and I’m so glad I have Alteryx now!
For me, being a good business analyst or citizen data scientist, is being able to give clear explanations and insight, allowing commercial teams to make clear decisions and act. I am excited about doing more of this in the future, as technology frees us from process and lets us do more of what makes us most valuable. To me, Alteryx is at the heart of that – it is an accessible, simple-to-use tool that gets us that place fast!