Planning and forecasting in retail are tough.  Having the right tools in place make this process easier.  But with so many technologies available, how can you know which one is right for your business?  Here are four things to keep in mind as you evaluate appropriate retail planning technology for your organization.

1. Self-Service Reporting

Still waiting on those Monday morning reports to be sent out manually?  What if you can’t get to the data that you need to see?

As a retailer, Mondays are exceptionally busy.  Finding ways to free up time for higher value-add activities is critical. One way we’ve been able to help clients save enormous amounts of time is by providing a solution that allows users to access their own reports directly from the database, instead of waiting on these to be sent out individually.

As a bonus, this type of self-service reporting allows you to see a deeper level of data. Instead of having to ask for an admin to drill deeper into your hierarchies, you can simply drill down yourself immediately. This helps prevent a lot of the back-and-forth emails we often see at retailers who plan exclusively in Excel.  No more sending out a request and getting the dreaded “Out of Office” auto response that tells you it’ll be a while before you can get to the numbers you need.

2. Single Source of the Truth

You know the drill.  One department’s spreadsheet says one thing and one says another.  They’re close, but who has the right number?  And more importantly, how can you be sure?

We see this at clients all the time. Why? Because planning exclusively in Excel is a tedious, manual, and error-prone process. Especially when you’re combining sheets from multiple departments in multiple geographic locations. Mistakes happen.  It’s easy for cell references to get lost as data is added or rows are removed.  And it’s tough to go back into the details when you have more questions.

This problem can be alleviated by using a web-based planning solution that eliminates the need for spreadsheets to be sent back-and-forth and delivers a single source of the truth. Once data is entered, this type of solution automatically aggregates up through your hierarchies and is immediately available to be verified. If there’s ever a question, these programs allow you to drill down into the details to see where any inconsistency is coming from. This helps avoid finger pointing and confusion, saving you valuable time (and preventing headaches).

3. Excel Add-In

No matter how many improvements are made in the world of web-based planning, sometimes users like to stick with what they know best: Excel. And that’s OK.

Many of the leading planning technologies have anticipated and prepared for this.  Allowing users to enter their data into Excel and it feeds directly into your live database is a competitive advantage that separates the best tools.

If this is a requirement of your users, make sure you choose an appropriate technology that has this functionality. Whether it’s Smart View from Oracle, PAX from IBM, OfficeConnect from Adaptive Insights, or a variety of others, we’ve been able to set up hundreds of clients with the software package with the Excel Add-In best for them.

4. Depth of Analysis

While every planning tool includes some level of analytics capability, we’ve recently seen some very powerful software packages come onto the market that stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. Imagine being able to start by looking at total global sales for all regions throughout your entire company. Then, in the same report, drill down level by level, department by department, until you can see each individual transaction that took place on a store by store basis. Normally this type of data takes weeks to get; if you can see it at all.

But what if you could see these numbers the next day? Imagine the kind of trends you could see if you had this kind of detail.  What kind of decisions could you make, and how rapidly could you respond?

The caveat is that not all these newer analytics tools are well suited for inputting data, so they can’t be used as a standalone planning tool. However, we’ve seen them used in conjunction with other tools as a powerful combination allowing retailers to see transaction-level detail, along with having all the other planning functionality we’ve been talking about.

Conclusion

Of course, there are a lot of factors at play and there is no “one size fits all” solution for every retailer’s planning process.  At eCapital Advisors, we’ve been able to help hundreds of clients choose the right solution for them.

As you evaluate a technology solution for your retail business, you don’t have to do it alone.  Contact us today for a free evaluation of what might help you streamline your planning and analytics process.

David Wrightsman

David Wrightsman started his career performing EPM implementations with Oracle’s Hyperion suite of financial products. His clients included names such as Medtronic, Land O’Lakes, Polaris, Ecolab, Schreiber Foods, and a variety of others. He then spent several years creating software around medical training simulations for healthcare providers. Currently, David is focused on creating and implementing software solutions for eCapital’s retail clients.

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