In the era of Big Data, many organizations have more data than they know what to do with. But unlocking the narrative behind all of those numbers and making connections that others have yet to see can make all the difference when it comes to finding a competitive advantage in the ever-crowded marketplace. Eric Bibelnieks has made a career of delivering that potential value as the vice president of customer analytics at women’s clothing retailer maurices. But when parent company ascena retail group expanded his responsibilities to looking at dressbarn’s data in addition to maurices’ in 2017, Bibelnieks saw an opportunity to find even deeper seeded value in the endless mine of data.
After delivering impressive insights to maurices in the evolving retail environment, Bibelnieks now eagerly faces the challenge of doing the same across multiple brands—and the volume of data he’s encountered is staggering. “I’m still drinking from the firehose, but my personal style is to learn and listen as much as I can before I start shaping and changing,” he says. “But then I always tell people, if the new job isn’t challenging enough or doesn’t scare you in some sense, it’s not the right job.”
A View to the Customer
In his new role, Bibelnieks is able to take a customer-centric view beyond the already vast online and in-store experience and capture what shoppers are purchasing, how they respond to marketing, and what their activity in loyalty programs is across multiple brands. On top of adding a second retailer, Bibelnieks added customer insights to his purview in addition to customer analytics. “We use that data and bolt them together to inform marketing strategies, engagement strategies, and contact strategies,” he explains.
When it comes to uniting databases and metrics across brands, Bibelnieks has found that the devil is in the details. Plus, his team needs to find the right way to consistently communicate the lessons learned from that data. In any boardroom, the CEO and chief marketing officer need to be speaking the same language, especially when it comes to something as complex as data. Add in a second set of leadership that needs to communicate with the first, and the importance of consistency grows exponentially.
In this regard, he partners closely with IT partners, helping them to explain how the data is used and how to best structure technology in addition to helping to build new apps to meet the needs of the business. Together, they’re working to evolve customer experience management tools and offer more personalized experiences, whether in-store or online.
Retail Tech Challenges
In this new retail environment, the speed with which other teams need to access data is increasing rapidly, and Bibelnieks wants to ensure that his team doesn’t become a bottleneck of information. Rather than acting as gatekeepers for when requests come on, the team works better and provides more value by sharing information as much as possible and giving people access. But when other teams have access, Bibelnieks makes sure that they have the proper definitions and understanding to see the value of the data and use it properly.
The team’s work has helped not only learn about each brand’s customers, but also to identify how they differ and how they are similar. While dressbarn originated on the East Coast, maurices grew out of the Midwest. Customers from dressbarn tend to be older and have a higher income range than maurices. As such, the two brands offer different styles and see different purchase cycles. “I will buy casual clothes more frequently than I will dressy clothes,” Bibelnieks says. “The biggest season for maurices tends to be in the fall as people gear up for the changing weather. However, dressbarn’s biggest season is spring, as people prepare for events like graduation, Mother’s Day, and Easter.” Those facts might be tied to the history of the brand rather than something inherent in the consumers, but Bibelnieks and his team are working to learn from that and derive knowledge they can use to further improve sales.
Sharing Insights Across Brands
But the insights don’t stop at those two brands either. Bibelnieks is able to share with his colleagues across ascena retail’s other five brands, sharing ideas and best practices. Collaborative meetings had taken place as early as five years ago, when Bibelnieks first joined maurices. The company is still working toward a single scalable set of metrics and approaches, along with common reporting, that will make that work much easier.
Since taking over data responsibilities for dressbarn, Bibelnieks’s team has doubled in size to accommodate the increased workload. To keep all of those people on the same page, he has needed to prioritize a strategic direction and worthwhile opportunities. Things can get lost in the shuffle when adding a lot of new moving pieces, making consolidation and working nimbly keys to success.
“We’re talking a lot about scale because we need to scale our insights and value to the marketing teams, the media teams, the executive-level management, and more,” Bibelnieks says. “As an analytics professional, you sit in this wonderful space between technology and business. I get to translate business needs and opportunities into an analytical problem that suddenly becomes solvable through data and technology.”
Collaboration and communication have become as important as any dataset. And, in that sense, Bibelnieks’s new position and increased workload have presented an exciting opportunity because of the daunting challenge—the key, he says, to any new role.