MR ABHIK GUPTA IS THE MANAGING DIRECTOR OF NIELSEN, WEST AFRICA MAGHREB, BASED OUT OF LAGOS. IN THIS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MARK UNYIME OF RETAIL INFO, ABHIK SHARES INSIGHTS AND OPINIONS ON DATA ANALYTICS AND HOW THIS EMERGING RETAIL TREND IS CHANGING THE DYNAMICS AND EVOLUTION WITHIN THE RETAIL INDUSTRY. ACCORDING TO HIM, RETAIL ANALYTICS IS POISED TO HELP RETAILERS WHO EMBRACE IT MAXIMIZE SUCCESS.
Q: From information available to me, you have been with Nielsen for some time now and have worked in different business environment before coming to Nigeria (West Africa). How is Nigeria (West Africa) different?
A: I have been working with Nielsen for a Long time; I spent a long time working at the Middle East before I moved to Africa about a year and half ago. Obviously, West Africa is a very exciting place to be because of the sheer dynamism, the change and most importantly the opportunities that lay bare across the region.
Q: Data collection is good, yet data integrity is also very important. In developing economies like ours with poor infrastructures, data collection is often a challenge. In addition, in an Omni-channel market, retailers often collected data from various sources. How can we ascertain the integrity of data collected from these media if we are to produce meaningful insights from the data?
A: Africa likely is a challenge because we talking about large countries, huge population, infrastructures which is at a developmental stage. So there are challenges in terms of access, because of the vastness of the countries. With these challenges invariably, we found the answer in technology and I personally feel technology is going to make the biggest difference in Africa. We do this retail survey, and we run this retail panel 365 days a year across Nigeria on the basis of which we estimate market sizes, share etc. In August 2016 last year, we actually went live with gathering data electronically, so you don’t have to carry pen and paper to the stores and am talking about electronic data gathering all across Nigeria. With this development, our auditors can actually record the data electronically. Electronic data gathering has several advantages, one of which is accuracy, because as Humans, we are prone to errors. So while filing in a particular products, we may fill in the wrong description so the machine automatically corrects the data because it has the database of all the products that has been recorded so the moment it doesn’t match, the machine will give you an error. Going forward in terms of recording the numbers, it also gives you what you’ve done in the last two months so you can actually see the trends on how you doing something logical and if you’ve done something wrong, the machine automatically notifies you about the error so you can make corrections. And most importantly, you are able to hook up as soon as you come back from the field and the data is immediately uploaded to the system and this gives us opportunity to cross check if there are any questions. Imagine in some corners of Northern Nigeria, previously it would have taken us two or three days to gather this data. But today, we have the data available by the push of a button so we’ve got the time factor covered coupled with accuracy of the data. So far that is how we collect data to guarantee accuracy of the process. Another factor is the lack of availability of Macro level data because when you are estimating universally, you need to understand what trends applies universally. Because of the lack of information in developing countries unlike developed countries where you can get these information available from the census bureau or their various Government departments. Here, one has to actually collect the information manually and so we actually had to do the census completed in 2016, and the reason we made this investments in addition to client demand was because we needed information on what happens at the macro level since those information were not available. So those are the investments we make and will continue to make in Africa and therefore, the cost of operation becomes slightly higher because it is both investing in data as investing in the quality of data. This basis is what gives us the power to predict or estimate the market movement spectrum because at the end of the day like you rightly noted, they are manufacturers or clients who have taken decisions based on this information so it is our duty to be accurate as possible to ensure their decisions are valid.
Q: Data analytics is central for the success of any business. Do you think retailers operating in Nigeria have to come to terms with data analytics? Is the market ripe for data analytics?
A: Yes, I believe it’s still in a process of change. People understand the power of data but I guess they still have to experience it for themselves. For instance, imagine you are a retailer and you are trying to increase profitability, the basic question you ask yourself is what product should I stock to become more profitable, and what I should stock less? How do I improve my shoppers experience so they keep coming back? What is it that my shoppers like to do while shopping so I can offer a complete package? All of these questions can be answered by data based decisions and the moment you try once and you actually see the impact in your profitability then your doubt is cleared. Therefore with such ground breaking information and results, the moment I go to any country, I don’t have to preach because the results already speak for themselves and the clients are converted. After test running the data, the reverse becomes the case as the clients come and seek for more information because results have been obtained. So I guess it’s just a matter of us connecting with the clients. The good thing about Nigeria is that we have a lot of knowledge coming in especially with the multi-national companies who are using fairly advanced techniques and then there is a local business group, which is coming up and there are quite a few local giants who have become big enough in the business today. So I think we are making progress and today we see much larger percentage of local clients patronizing us so I can attest that we have made quite an impact.
Q: Nielsen is a global organization making huge impact across the world and improving businesses. How is Nielsen supporting the Retail industry in Nigeria?
A: The beauty of a global organization is having solutions available at your door step anytime you want. So, the first and foremost difference that we can make is to be able to bring the knowledge and the solutions that we have available across the world to Nigeria. For instance, the conference that you attended was a platform to enlighten retailers about the same state of art solutions in Nigeria as we would speak with those in UAE, India, Indonesia and every other part of the world. So that’s the beauty of a global organization, and we have the ability to scale up and provide the same level of solutions across the world. Also we want to obviously move up on the chain and provide state of the art solution rather than stay at the bottom.
Q: From my discussion with stakeholders in the Retail Industry, a key challenge when it comes to data analytics is often with affordability of data. What is Nielsen doing to help retailers with affordability of data analytics?
A: I’ll give you two answers. The first answer obviously is that in todays’ world, affordability is a challenge everywhere. If you think affordability is not a challenge in the United States, you are wrong. Everyone has budget challenges, everyone is trying to make their money go further just as any other business. We have therefore the similar precious oil, the effort is similar in terms of making sure that we optimize the cost of been able to provide the same service at durable cost. Again the answer to these challenges is technology. Technology has made a lot of things more affordable. I mean to transport the specimens from a remote region, you can imagine the courier cost and data cost are massively different so technology has helped us optimize cost and we are re-investing the money we make back on technology to ensure we offer more valued services. If you look at some of our services, there is the concept called ‘The connected system’ as we go further again, this initiative will support our clients access information online. We are trying to provide online solutions to clients where they can have analytics on the go. The clients themselves can access timely information since time is of the essence. Another point I would like to drive is that, just like any other product there is the price and there is the value. So at the end of the day, the value is based on the returns that you get out of the product, it’s not so much the price that you pay but the value that you get out of the product and the moment that you derive worthy value, you will be satisfied. So the objective is to help our clients derive value and from our end, our idea is to help our clients both retailers and manufacturers see the value that they can derive from data analytics so they can actually reap the benefits and therefore make our presence or existence justifiable.
Q: Nigeria just came out of recession, what suggestions do you have for retailers who wish to optimize their operations and maximize success in the post-recession economy?
A: It’s a process, you cannot just come out of recession. And I think I said this at a Retail presentation in one of the many conferences we’ve had. Some changes are irreversible and certain habits change irrevocably and some things will come back. What is important is that you keep your fingers on the pulse as the things evolve. But today as you see, the consumer has become more price sensitive, the retailer and the manufacturer can help enhance the experience so that they actually get value for the money they are paying and in certain cases there could be certain brand options which they can provide in other to meet the needs of consumers. What I would say is that there is the product part of it which is offering the right combination which satisfies the customer, and there is also the entire challenge of making it available when the consumer needs it. And then of course as the market evolves, we have questions of what are the new needs and benefits that we can provide for the consumer to enhance their experience. So it’s a continuous journey and in my opinion, the companies who will invest today will be the ones to actually catch the economy on the way up so this is an opportunity to actually invest in the market because everyone is actually convinced about the potentials.
Q: As a data analyst, you have insights on the changing dynamics of the retail industry. So, let us fast forward five years from now, where do you see the Retail space in Nigeria?
A: (laughing) if I could predict, I would have become a billionaire by now. Again, drawing from experiences of what we’ve seen in other countries, and our observations of how the retail markets has evolved, obviously one expects that the retail trade will consolidate further, the consumer will become more sophisticated and the interconnections in the world ensures that the aspirations become higher and higher. We live in a time where everything is pretty universal because you know exactly which product is launched in the USA, thanks to the help of social media which makes this information available and of course the regular media. However there are certain challenges in Africa which will make it unique because we are talking about large countries and so as retail evolve or modernize, we will see retail outlets existing in slightly different formats. One of the changes that we see is for example, the emergence of small market formats in modern trade and not the huge hypermarkets. We also see smaller convenient supermarket emerging as important and we see this trend in Asia and lots of other places. I also think products will evolve as well as the diversification of the markets style.
Q: For Retailers who embrace Data analytics, what are the prospects for them?
A: It’s very simple. Retailers have some parameters to operate within the retail space. As a retailer, you are trying to maximize the customer experience to ensure the customer comes back. To get a complete experience, you need to be able to have wider range of what the customer wants, you need to provide the brands that the consumer wants, you need to sell at the price they will be ready to buy and all of this are choices. And what we can help the retailers do is actually help them make these choices based on data. In that case, Nielsen becomes the platform or basis of interaction between retailers and manufacturers. This provide the consumers with the complete experience and hopefully we would facilitate that discussion with the information we have so we become the common platform and that’s our goal and aspiration. I would also add that according to shopping trend studies we’ve conducted in Nigeria, we see the consumer making multiple shopping trips and interacting with various formats in the open markets as they would go for the hyper market. So my only message to the modern day retailers is that the competition is not just within the country, it’s a much wider and larger competition therefore they have to interact with the entire market.
Q: The new paradigm within the Retail Industry is that stakeholders collaborate, is this also Nielsen’s position? If yes, how is Nielsen collaborating with stakeholders in the Retail Industry?
A: There are a fair number of studies we do for specific clients across the retail industry. We are interacting with retailers on a regular basis, and am referring to modern trade retailers seeking to collaborate. What we would like to do is to present to them our understanding of the market to help them plan their businesses better and hopefully have them present to us their understanding so we can have a larger blueprint of the present day procedures and the process is already on. Hopefully we would build this bridges with the retailers and subsequently with the manufacturers so that we work together.
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