Kirk Ball, EVP, and Chief Information Officer at Giant Eagle, speaks with ElectrifAi CEO Ed Scott, in a video interview about ways to retain the C-Suite’s attention, how structured work streams depend on machine learning, the role of customer segmentation, the need to understand customer journeys, personalization to retain customers, and creating the next generation of immersive experiences.
Giant Eagle is one of the largest privately owned enterprises in the U.S. comprising freestanding pharmacies, convenience stores, and supermarkets. ElectrifAi solves high-value business problems for the C-suite at the last mile, with prebuilt machine learning solutions.
Ball begins the discussion by providing an example portraying the role of ROI in retaining the C-Suite’s attention. He says that Giant Eagle ran two initiatives in parallel, one being a 10-month initiative and the other being for 3-4 months.
Explaining further, Ball says that it was purposefully done to gain the trust of the C-Suite by demonstrating value in the space planning area in the short term. He maintains that through this the organization could see the value addition in the form of improved space management, which remains a challenge for retailers.
Adding on, Ball mentions that for the longer work stream, the organization is working around price and promotion planning. This revolves around figuring out the right price at a store and the right promotion strategy for customers. He notes that by running two programs parallelly and showing value has helped his team gain the C-Suite’s trust and patience.
Ball states that the purposefully structured work streams are significantly dependent on data analytics and machine learning. He also informs that after the completion of space planning, the team will start with assortment planning in addition to price and promotion.
Despite the dependence on machine learning, Ball affirms that it is critical to understand what drives the right prices, promotion, and category assortment of products. He maintains that the buying patterns and preferences of customers differ from state to state, town to town, and city to city.
In this scenario, segmentation by understanding the customers’ buying patterns and preferences is fundamental as it impacts the information fed to the machine learning capability, which helps with price and promotion planning.
Kirk Ball | EVP and CIO, Giant Eagle
Machine learning will be useless without the context of customer segmentation which includes learning the preferences and buying habits of customers, explains Ball. Segmentation is the foundation based on which price and promotion planning is done, he adds.
In continuation, Ball asserts that understanding where the customers are in their life journey is critical. He elaborates that there are hundreds of attributes around a customer, which if understood can aid in anticipating what they would buy for the next six to eight months.
The attributions around customers help in understanding customers’ behavior which leads to insights for assortment planning, price planning, or running promotions.
Further, to understand who the target customer is, he mentions conducting customer pulse surveys. This is done by looking into specific households to understand the buying patterns and reflect those on the ongoing price and promotion activities.
Giant Eagle exists to serve its customers and to understand how to maximize the value customers derive from shopping in its different formats, states Ball. To connect better with customers, the firm understands how customers interact with it, by creating an interaction profile. This helps in understanding the customer and their household, leading to a better connection.
Moving forward, Ball states that this connection to customers on a personal level, happens with technology. He shares that Giant Eagle has a series of technologies that collect and ingest data, take the different signals, combine them, and make personalized recommendations.
Personalization is an objective that everybody is chasing, says Ball. It makes the customer feel that the company cares for them, understands their buying patterns, and that the company is trying to maximize the value they get from its offers.
When asked about success metrics, Ball states that the company knows if it is successful, based on the loyalty program. Based on the loyalty points consumed, the firm categorizes further by super loyal, premium loyal, mid-tier loyal, and so on. He adds that this is a measure to understand the impact of prices, promotion, listening to the customer, and targeted personalization.
Furthermore, Ball states that there is a moment of truth for customers which is different for each household. He notes that the moment of truth is in deciding what product they are about to buy, whether physically at the store, through digital interactions, or looking at personalized offers. Ball confirms that Giant Eagle understands and signals value to the customers at different moments of truth they have.
Thereafter, Ball states that Giant Eagle does personalized messaging at point of sale, and in mobile devices as well.
In conclusion, he opines that the prospect of animating inanimate objects in-store will be impactful in a hands-free situation, wherein the inanimate objects will speak to customers through augmented reality. Ball refers to it as the next generation of creating an immersive experience.
CDO Magazine appreciates Kirk Ball for sharing his insights with our global community.