Drive Success: Avoiding Software Lemons

Investing in New Software: Avoiding the Lemon

Investing in new software can feel like buying a used car—exciting but risky. The true risk lies not in the cost but in ensuring the technology delivers as promised. Product reviews and feature comparisons often fail to provide the necessary insights to mitigate this risk.

A common pitfall is purchasing a highly-rated product that doesn’t integrate well with your existing systems, leading to increased manual effort and low staff adoption.

Buying Software vs. Choosing a Technology Partner

Convenience retailers are shifting from merely buying software to investing in a Technology Partner that delivers a comprehensive, functional solution, ensuring full staff adoption.

At Taiga, we understand the importance of smooth implementation and continuous education for successful software adoption. Our approach ensures that convenience store operators not only implement our Front Office Platform efficiently but also maximize its potential through ongoing support and training.

Staff Adoption: The Key to Success

Retailers now recognize that staff adoption is crucial for realizing the expected benefits of a new technology system. They seek Technology Partners who prioritize this aspect.

Continuous education maximizes software utilization, keeps users updated with new features, and improves proficiency. Taiga offers monthly tours, biweekly email tips, and regular check-in calls to keep users informed, engaged, and skilled. This leads to higher user satisfaction and better software usage, translating to improved business outcomes.

Versionless Software and Continuous Evolution

Another critical factor in selecting the right Technology Partner is their commitment to ongoing enhancement. Retailers are not just buying a product for today; they are making a long-term investment with a partner that will evolve to meet future needs.

Versionless software continuously evolves without traditional version upgrades, akin to a car upgrading itself while you drive—no need to buy a new one every five years.

Taiga is dedicated to continuous improvement. Our development team incorporates user feedback and industry advancements into our software, ensuring it remains cutting-edge. Users benefit from seamless updates, enhanced security, and the latest functionalities without disruptive upgrades.

Implementation Success Story

FKG Oil, operating 83 MotoMart stores across six Midwestern states, needed a solution capable of handling vast amounts of data and making it accessible for informed decision-making. Taiga’s Front Office Platform quickly began providing MotoMart stores with actionable insights for data-driven decisions.

Conclusion

A successful software implementation, coupled with ongoing training and a versionless approach to software evolution, is crucial for maximizing the benefits of any technological investment. Taiga’s Front Office Platform exemplifies these principles, offering convenience stores user-friendly, continuously improving technology that supports their unique needs.

By prioritizing effective implementation and continuous education, Taiga ensures that its customers are well-equipped to leverage real-time data and drive business growth. Embrace the future of convenience retail with Taiga and experience the transformative power of our Front Office Platform.

Demystifying “Data Driven” Transformation: A Roadmap for Success

Over the past year, “becoming data driven” has been a central theme at industry events and in industry publications.  The term “digital transformation” has been used to describe the journey from the manual, the analog, and the traditional, towards a future where data is not merely present, but deeply integrated and actively working for us. This transformation promises not just enhanced revenue, profit, and customer satisfaction, but also a profound change in how businesses operate.  For many operators, it sounds too complicated or simply too good to be true – particularly after previous experience with technology vendors that have over-promised and under-delivered.

The purpose of this post is not to sell you on the concept, which has been done ad nauseam, but to make it approachable, understandable, and less daunting. Here’s how you can break down the process into manageable steps and key considerations for a successful digital transformation.

Steps to Digital Transformation

 

1. Selecting Your Partner

Choosing the right partner for your digital transformation is like choosing a co-pilot for a cross-country road trip. It’s not just about the vehicle but also about the company you’ll keep.

a. Cost  Consider the financial investment and the time commitment required from your team.

Is the cost justifiable based on the projected outcomes? 

Will your team need to sideline other projects to implement and learn to use these new systems?

b. Capability  Investigate the full range of what the product can do.  

Is it designed specifically for convenience retailers?  

Does it have existing integrations with the systems that are already in use at your business?

c. Collaboration  Evaluate the implementation process, customer support and partnership you’ll receive. 

Will your vendor lead you through this transformation step by stem or will they simply provide the necessary technology?

Will you have access to training, customer service, and technical support when you need it? 

Our industry is evolving quickly and modern technology solutions have to keep up. Will you be charged for future enhancements and upgrades to the system that you have chosen?

 

2. Sorting Out Your Data

“Good Data” is the fuel for your digital engine. If it’s unrefined or improperly cataloged, it will cause your engine to seize up rather than increasing your horsepower and performance.

a. Real-Time Integration  Data that is days or weeks old will not allow you to take action and address issues before they become big problems.   

b. Cataloging  The NACS Standard of Categorization allows you to perform analysis down to the SKU level.

c. Tailored Solutions  Look for a solution that was purpose built for the convenience store industry. Off-the-Shelf products require huge amounts of customization and integration work.

A convenience specific solution should enable you to analyze promotions, price items, analyze market baskets and prevent losses. 

3. Getting Everyone On Board

Remember, technology is a tool, not a solution. The most advanced systems are worthless if your team isn’t using them.

a. Effort to Implement  How long will it take to integrate with your existing technologies and get the system up and running?

Assess how the technology will be adopted by the users. Your solution provider should have a proven process for implementation, training and the ongoing utilization for each of your user groups.

b. Automate Manual Reporting Technology that can replace batch data extraction and manipulation in Excel will free up time and resources. So does this save time extracting and manipulating data and will it be in real time?

c. Simplifying Other Tasks Consider what other business problems your new technology can solve. What other tasks could be made easier? Pricing? Inventory management? Can the solution help with these tasks? 

 

Embracing digital transformation can be daunting, yet with the right partner, organized data, and user adoption, substantial benefits await within 90 days. Careful partner selection and data organization, coupled with driving user adoption, pave the way for success. Contact Taiga to discuss how we can partner with you on this transformative journey.

Decoding Trends: Navigating the 2023 NACS Show with Taiga’s Front Office Platform

Now that the 2023 NACS show has concluded and we have all returned home, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect a bit on the show and themes our team saw while we were there. The NACS Show was a great place to learn and connect, as usual. It was also great to see so many of the Taiga team in person.  While we were in Atlanta, my team and I had the opportunity to attend education sessions, connect with friends and clients, and walk the show floor to see the future of convenience retail.  As we went through the week, we saw three pivotal themes that are reshaping the convenience store landscape: Digital Transformation, Artificial Intelligence and Customer Experience.

Digital Transformation: Powering Smart Retail

Digital Transformation is no longer a choice for convenience retail but a necessity, dominating discussions at the 2023 NACS Show. Consumer expectations are evolving almost as fast as technology and convenience retailers must keep up. Digital Transformation was defined in one of the education sessions with Alix Partners, Yesway, and Pilot  as “the change and acceleration a company undergoes through the integration of digitally enabled innovations at scale”. This digital transformation is occurring as many convenience stores are fast-tracking their adoption of digital technologies; from self-checkout, to dynamic pricing, to personalized customer journeys to chatbots and voice recognition. A consumer study reiterated that digital innovations can impact each of the value drivers for consumers. In the study, Alix Partners found that consumers value innovations tied to payments and mobility (i.e., self-checkout, contactless payments, and mobile app/loyalty). However, listening to consumers feedback on technology investment is essential to ensure adoption of these new technologies. Consumers stated they are more likely to adopt technologies that are somewhat familiar AND that make their in-store experience better.

Artificial Intelligence: Revolutionizing Operations

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a subset of digital transformation and was, in itself, a theme of the show. AI is becoming more prevalent in C-stores, from predictive analytics helping optimize inventory to AI-driven customer service chatbots. Some examples of how AI can help convenience retailers are with predictive analytics on loss mitigation, labor forecasting/staffing optimization, sales forecasting, and inventory optimization. One example given for AI was having AI track sales against predictive analytics to identify when an item was going to go out of stock and send an alert, just like Taiga’s Front Office Platform does with our Issue Detection module. The most important application of AI was in customer experience.  Customer expectations for service and a personalized experience continue to grow. AI can help meet ever changing customer needs as it can provide you with real-time, relevant information on your customers and their habits so you can provide them with an optimized experience. 

Customer Experience: Beyond Transactions

Customer Experience was probably one of the most important themes of the show.  As I reiterated in several previous articles, customer behavior changed during the pandemic, with people looking to convenience stores to replace their grocery runs. The era of c-stores just being a quick stop for snacks is over. Convenience stores are transforming into community hubs, focusing on personalized experiences. As convenience stores are looking to enhance customer experiences, Taiga’s commitment to this theme is evident in our technology roadmap and will be available soon to our customers. We are using our aggregated data to decipher purchasing patterns, preferences, and demographic data in order to provide a detailed segmentation of customers for c-stores.  This data will help convenience retailers tailor promotions to individual customers, fostering a sense of belonging and turning one-time shoppers into loyal patrons.

Now What? How To Take Action

So as a retailer, how do you take advantage of the NACS 2023 trends?  As you look to implement digital transformation and AI to provide a better customer experience, make sure your systems are set up so you can see the data and results from these investments.  You wouldn’t put money in the bank without expecting to see a return on it, right?  The same goes for investments in technology – don’t put in self-checkout, promotions, or a loyalty program without ensuring you have systems in place to track performance and make sure you get a return on your dollars spent.

That’s where Taiga can help – our Front Office Platform can work with the other systems in your stores to aggregate and categorize your data, allowing you to see results easily and quickly.  Say you install self-checkout – Taiga’s system can display the adoption rate, compare sales between self-checkout and cashier, and provide details on items purchased through self-checkout.  The ROI will be right there for you to see, and if something needs to improve you can identify where to focus your efforts. Don’t worry about the Taiga platform being out of date for changes in technology.  Our platform is versionless, so it is continuously upgraded for customer needs. This means that if you want to see a new dashboard view or adapt your platform for a new technology, we can make it happen without adding costs.

2023 NACS Show Recap

The 2023 NACS Show was a great experience for the Taiga team, and it helped us understand the priorities for the industry: Go digital, leverage the power of AI, and prioritize customer experiences. The good news is that Taiga’s Front Office Platform isn’t just keeping pace with what convenience retailers need; it’s leading the charge, enabling retailers to thrive in this transformative journey.

Capturing the Value Within Your Own Data to Maintain Margins

When inflation increases the cost of CPG products by 22% and consumers begin to exhibit recessionary behavior, retailers are left with a complicated problem to solve. The winning solution in the current economic environment is capturing the value within your data to measure and understand what is occurring and to form tactics and strategies that ensure you are meeting your customers’ changing needs.

“The key to success in times of change is gaining better visibility into your data,” said Bill Ivers, CEO at Taiga, an analytics company serving c-stores. “In order to do that, the first step is to have your data properly aggregated and cataloged so that you can analyze it at the subcategory level and drill down to the brand, supplier, SKU or basket level.”

Having clean data allows retailers to pick up on even the most subtle consumer purchasing changes and take action to mitigate any negative impacts. Effective category management comes from really understanding how consumers are shopping in your stores and ensuring you have the right products in the right places at the right prices when they are looking to purchase, according to Ivers.

“You need to be performing this type of analysis frequently because new behaviors are continuously appearing and then fading away every quarter,” said Ivers. “You could miss out on a trend altogether if you happen to sell out of the trending product or, conversely, you could end up holding a lot of excess inventory when an item’s sales slow down.”

Taiga’s Front Office Platform delivers real-time alerts on just about any metric a retailer chooses to track, according to Ivers. “When that metric gets outside of the normal zone, alerts are sent via SMS and email. The things I would be monitoring right now are unusual increases or declines in a specific category’s revenue or volume of sales,” he said. “Our platform runs your data through AI constantly, and it will realize, ‘In the salty snack category, they’ve now exceeded a 20% increase,’ and it sends an alert.”

Promotional Strategy Can Impact Changing Consumer Behavior

Once retailers are leveraging their data effectively, Ivers suggests they take a closer look at their promotion strategies. Taiga’s Front Office Platform gives retailers the tools to analyze each of their promotions, including the take rate, pool margin and other important metrics.

“I can’t emphasize promotion strategy enough,” Ivers said. “If promotions are the leading driver of your consumer purchasing right now, you need to go through your promotions and find out how they are really performing so you can optimize to attract more customers.”

Pricing Adjustments Can Drive Revenue and Margins

Ivers also suggests that c-store operators watch their pricing as consumers become more price sensitive.

“Pricing is a key lever in times of inflation, and looking at your data to see where you can optimize pricing to maximize both revenue and profit is very important,” he said. “With Taiga’s Price Optimization tool, our AI can recommend price changes, both increases and decreases, that will deliver the highest revenue and margins.”

Demand Forecasting Can Maintain Margins in an Inflationary Environment

Ivers says that convenience retailers should eventually consider demand forecasting as well.

“I think it’s vitally important to maintain your profits on quick-service food or freshly prepared foods, of course, but retailers should go even further and look at the demand forecast for some of their staples,” he said, adding that Taiga’s demand forecasting within its Front Office Platform can accurately predict the next 72 hours of sales demand for any product, category or subcategory at a specific store.

Ivers says that looking back at inflation over the past year, and how CPG products went up, retailers need to detect rising costs quickly and have a sound strategy in place.

“Taiga’s tools allow you to get your handle on market trends as well as pricing and margin impacts,” he said. “Instead of taking the hatchet and making big changes without knowing the outcomes, our tools allow you to get out your scalpel and precisely carve out the changes that will maximize margins and minimize losses.”

This article is was originally posted on the NACS website in September 2023.

How CPG Inflation Has Impacted Convenience Store Shopping

The past year has not been easy for convenience retailers as CPG inflation has negatively impacted in-store margins, and there’s no clear end in sight. While there are multiple articles discussing that sales revenue has increased year over year, the real impacts of this inflation can be seen in shrinking margins.

Bill Ivers, CEO at Taiga, an analytics company serving c-stores, saw the impact of inflation on CPG product margins beginning in early 2022. That’s when convenience retailers increased pricing to maintain margins amid rising costs. However, the price increases resulted in changes in consumer behavior patterns that ultimately yielded smaller margins and were evident by Q3 2022.

CPG Inflation Convenience Stores Shrinking Margins

 

Inflation and CPG Margins

The driving factor for these changes in behavior was inflation. Over the five consecutive quarters ending in March 2023, CPG prices rose by a total of 22%, as retailers raised prices to maintain their margins. At that point consumer behavior began changing rapidly. The month of March was the tipping point where inflation peaked and a combination of other economic events, like the failure of Silicon Valley Bank, contributed to undermining consumer confidence to the point that NIQ described consumers as exhibiting “recessionary behavior.

“My research revealed that most convenience retailers were not keeping up with the rapid pace of inflation. I began to see CPG margin compression all over the place,” Ivers said. “The impacts of this continued from early 2022 all the way through the first quarter of 2023. In March of 2023, we began to see a crisis in consumer confidence, which led to a major change in purchasing behaviors. For example, consumers began to prioritize perceived value, buying on promotions and substituting private labels for name brands.”

While inflation rates may be slowing, we are not out of the woods yet. The aftershocks of this inflation-cased behavior are far reaching. Ivers says that once consumer behaviors have been altered, they don’t necessarily revert back. Some of the changes in consumer behavior that happened during the pandemic are still in place. Convenience retailers need to adapt for these changes and adjust promotion and merchandising strategies accordingly.

Increasing Consumer Value

“Customers are seeking perceived value with their purchasing power,” said Ivers. “Promotion strategy right now is extremely important.” Loyalty often goes hand in hand with promotions, and customers are wide open to joining loyalty programs if they feel they can receive special offers, he added. “It is good timing to grow your loyalty channel. Customers are more receptive to loyalty programs than they were just a year ago.”

Because customers are seeking value, they are buying more private label items. “We are seeing some consumers moving away from premium products and choosing products that they perceive as a better value,” Ivers said.

It’s one thing to understand what’s happening with consumer-buying behavior, but it’s another to implement strategies to address this in your business. This is where Taiga comes in. Taiga’s cloud-based platform, processes and expertise help retailers become more data-driven and take quick action on that data.

“It all starts with having the data. That’s the foundation for an effective strategy against inflation—and being able to accommodate the evolving customer,” Ivers said.

This article is was originally posted on the NACS website in September 2023.

Getting to “Why”

A couple weeks ago, we onboarded several new members to our sales team. As a part of that process, our new team members spoke to existing clients to get a user’s perspective of our technology and services. During a call, we asked one client to describe how using Taiga has  transformed their business. He responded: ”I could always understand what happened within my stores by reviewing my back-office reporting, but Taiga is where I go to answer the question why.”

Upon hearing his response, many of us realized that simple statement was one of the most concise and accurate descriptions of what our platform achieves that we had ever heard. A Front Office Platform, like Taiga, can help you understand “why” your business is changing.  Many of today’s convenience retailers are currently in the challenging position of having the data to know what is happening but operating without the insights to answer the question “why”.

dewang-gupta-r8q16QN40Xg-unsplash

 The Importance of Asking “Why”?

Take your pick, all the most prolific business writers talk about the wisdom of asking why at some point or another. From the classics like Covey, Carnegie, and Drucker all the way through to the modern era. If you have ever read a book by Malcom Gladwell, it’s a deep dive into asking “why” and the importance of using data to answer the question.

Whether your goal is to grow your revenue and margins, make your processes and staffing more efficient, or reorganize your operations, asking “why” is the key to identifying the areas where you can improve and setting up a strategy aligned with those goals. Without knowing “why” achieving these goals is far more challenging for Convenience Retailers.

 

You can’t get the answers you need 

For the typical Convenience Retailer, it can be difficult to ask the question “why” because there are major technical and time intensive hurdles that must be traversed to get an answer. A Retailer may find the “what” in their monthly financial reports – that sales of non-alcoholic Packaged Beverages have declined by 10% month-over-month – but not know the “why”.  But most times getting to the “why” currently requires a process something like this:

  1. Using SQL, a staff member has manually poll raw data from each store (takes at least an hour)
  2. Then a staff member must manually organize and clean the data (another hour or so)
  3. Next, the data will be sent to another department where they will manually analyze it in a spreadsheet with pivot tables etc. (this can take hours to days)

 

Finally, all this manual effort gets to an insight, but at this point you are at least a couple days (and a lot of times weeks) from when the question was asked. So, is the data still relevant?  Even if the data is relevant, it is typically only a partial answer because the data set is incomplete. Did your team factor in any of the following that could have impacted the data?

  • Changes to customer demographics or traffic?
  • The impact of supplier price changes, new promotions, and loyalty?
  • Are customers making substitutions, lifting other product sales?
  • Is there a seasonal shift in demand or is the change a result of something else?
  • Were there any inventory issues?

Since asking these kinds of questions and re-analyzing the data is so time consuming,  Convenience Retailers operate on instinct rather than facts, most of the time.  As a business leader, if “why” is the most important question that you should be asking, then you need to have the answers available at your fingertips.

Stay Competitive

Whether dealing with a labor shortage, a pandemic, or a post-pandemic recession, carefully tracking macroeconomic trends that may disrupt the Convenience Industry is not enough. Being able to ask “why” and immediately get the complete answer to explain the changes in your business is the most valuable exercise Convenience Retailers can perform.

A Front Office Platform can help you understand “why” your business is changing. Seeing the data from all your sources in real-time and at your fingertips can help you make business changing decisions quickly and easily. Click here to learn more about Taiga’s Front Office Platform and how our solutions enable Convenience Retailers to go from what to “why” and adjust their business to keep up with the changing marketplace.

DataLink Image

How to Become Data Driven

In this second installment of our two part article series with NACS Daily in March 2023, we discuss how Convenience Store Retailers can become more “data driven”. Specifically how they can save time and increase revenue by using Taiga’s Front Office Platform to turn the clutter of all their data systems into actionable insights they can use to improve their business.

Click the link below to read about the importance of turning raw data into real-time actionable insights.

How To Become A Data Driven Business

Elevate Data into Insights

In the first installment of our two part article series with NACS Daily in March 2023, we explain the importance in understanding the differences between information and insights, in order to become “data driven”.

Click the link below to read about the importance of turning raw data into real-time actionable insights.

Elevate Data into Insight

Why You Should Shift Back-Office Spend to Front-Office Solution

 

On the heels of what we saw at the 2022 NACS Show, we decided to write about the importance of a Front Office Platform!  There were multiple conversations, sessions, and education around the point that data is an essential part of your business and the importance of a data strategy. But the question unanswered was, how can you organize, categorize, and analyze all of your data the easiest way possible?

Click the link below to read the first installment of a two-part NACS Daily series on why convenience retailers should prioritize front-office technology spend!

Why You Should Shift Back-Office Spend to Front-Office Solutions