Coach has analytics in the bag

Luxury retailer shares seven tips for building an analytics team that will transform your business

Coach is already famous for must-have luxury handbags. But industry insiders admire Coach for a different kind of accessory: analytics. Coach’s success has proven that business analytics has become just as big a must-have for today’s retailers as – well, as a bag from Coach.

Parinaz Vahabzadeh, Vice President of Global Customer Intelligence and Advanced Analytics at Coach.

“Technology and how we manage and analyze data have completely transformed and disrupted the industry. We’ve seen more change in the last three years than we’ve seen in the last 15,” says Parinaz Vahabzadeh, Vice President of Global Customer Intelligence and Advanced Analytics at Coach. “Overall, retailers see the value in knowing their customers and believe analytics teams will help them tap into the power of that.”

Unfortunately, many analytics teams are put in the role of service provider, answering one-off questions as needed, or acting as consultants after the fact. “What’s needed – and what we’re building at Coach – is a strategic analytics think tank that drives business decisions and helps frame our strategy,” says Vahabzadeh.

According to recent research from SAS, 27 percent of analytics teams globally act as service providers, 38 percent act as consultants, and 25 percent act as business drivers.

So how can your team become more of a business driver? How can you evolve to become more of an organizational think tank? Follow these seven tips from Vahabzadeh and you’ll be well on your way.

1. Hire outside your industry

“I’ve always been an advocate of drawing talent from multiple practices,” says Vahabzadeh. “Some of the best talent we’ve found has come from the pharmaceuticals industry or the technology sector. We have enough institutional DNA to teach retail, but a great analytical mind is such an asset that it’s important to think differently about how to attract and develop that talent.”

Others have found success in recruiting analysts out of school and then sending them through a “business university” training program. That way they can be taught the business at an aggregate level and get some experience looking at the data from a business driver context.

2. Graduate from Excel

“‘Graduating from Excel’ is a phrase we use at Coach,” says Vahabzadeh. “It’s part of mainstreaming advanced analytics into the organization. When you’re as data-driven as we are, the next evolution for us is to integrate that into multiple business problems across multiple functions. We’re bringing together different silos of data and not only managing that information, but using it to make decisions.”

3. Develop a centralized analytics team

Historically, retailers have had analytical roles spread throughout the organization, from market research and customer intelligence to inventory planning and behavioral analysis teams. Pulling them together into a virtual team can help analysts work more strategically toward business goals. “Our centralized analytics team reports to the chief strategy officer, who is also head of marketing,” says Vahabzadeh.

“This gets us involved upfront in discussions about the key imperatives of the company, so the analytics and consumer threads are discussed first, not as an afterthought for big decisions.” According to recent research from SAS, 48 percent of retail analytics teams are centralized, 28 percent are decentralized, and 18 percent are hybrid.

4. Give analysts challenging work

What do analysts want? Decent salaries, yes. Clean data, sure. But perhaps more importantly, says Vahabzadeh, analysts want to solve difficult problems, and they want to know they’re making a difference in their organizations.

“We work with a very talented team of analysts. Everyone wants to work on interesting problems and have their work be valued and implemented. Getting involvement from the C-suite to support the work they’re doing is absolutely key.”

5. Break down the walls that divide IT and the business

“The wall between analytics and business has to go away,” says Vahabzadeh. “We sit with our information systems team and are joined with them at the hip.” She encourages analysts to understand technology better and encourages the technologists to learn more about analytics. “The wall between the analytics team and the business goes away very naturally when you’re just equal experts trying to solve a problem.”

6. Take a leading role in data governance and information distribution

“One of most significant changes I’ve seen in the last few years is that analytics is playing an increasing role in the governance of data,” says Vahabzadeh. “Connecting a thread between customers and their behavior and the data around that is becoming exponentially more complex. Analysts should play more of an architectural role in fitting all the pieces together.

“One of the other shifts we see is an increased role in making sure analytics is on demand and enterprisewide. Playing a leadership role in how data fits into the organization is vital. There’s a disruptive shift occurring in the way analytics is integrated into an organization.”

7. Invest in change management

“Analytics teams are becoming more involved in the selling of the analytics and becoming problem solvers,” says Vahabzadeh. “To do this, they have to really understand the business, know the kinds of analytics to apply and how to best partner with the organization.

“The value of a skilled analytics team is that it can take data and make an authentic asset out of it. That’s almost a value on the balance sheet – and it needs to be integrated into the pipes of the company.”


Is it worth the effort to take these steps in your organization? Of course – and here’s why: “Put simply, analytics works,” says Vahabzadeh. “Retailers have been in the analytics space for a while, but now is the next evolution. We are moving from answering questions about the past to answering questions about the future. We’re moving from knowing that something works to understanding why it works and what might happen next. The footprint of analytics is growing, and this leads to an increasing need to invest in the area and in the team.”

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Coach team picture

The Coach team (left to right): Danielle Schmelkin, Vice President of BI and Customer Engagement; Parinaz Vahabzadeh, Vice President of Global Customer Intelligence and Advanced Analytics; Chunqing Lu, Manager, Strategy and Consumer Insights; Matt Giunipero, Director, Data Management; Sid Shah, Manager, Customer Intelligence and Advanced Analytics.

Why Coach IT and business leaders attend conferences together

The photo above shows business and IT executives from retailer Coach attending the recent SAS Global Forum Executive conference.

Why are they there together? Because Coach made the bold decision to send representatives from both IT and the lines of business. Here are just a few of
the benefits:

1. Attend sessions together.
Instead of trying to describe this great new idea learned at the conference, IT and business leaders can learn it together and discuss how to apply it to the business.

2. Rally together around the same new concepts.
Technology conferences always showcase the latest and greatest tools, techniques and concepts. By attending a conference together, IT and business leaders have a common starting point for understanding the newest ways to solve problems.

3. Discuss ideas while they’re fresh.
Don’t wait until you’re back home to brainstorm on how to apply ideas to your business. Text each other during a presentation. Or talk about your ideas over lunch while the main points are still resonating.

4. Get to know each other outside of work.
A change of scenery, interesting keynotes and conference kick back parties can help IT and business leaders get to know each other better, open up the flow of communication and find common ground.

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