Introduction to Competitive Advantage in Information Systems

Where Does Data Come From?

Transaction Processing Systems

For most organizations that sell directly to their customers, transaction processing systems (TPS) represent a fountain of potentially insightful data. Every time a consumer uses a point-of-sale system, an ATM, or a service desk, there's a transaction (some kind of business exchange) occurring, representing an event that's likely worth tracking.

The cash register is the data generation workhorse of most physical retailers, and the primary source that feeds data to the TPS. But while TPS can generate a lot of bits, it's sometimes tough to match this data with a specific customer. For example, if you pay a retailer in cash, you're likely to remain a mystery to your merchant because your name isn't attached to your money. Grocers and retailers can tie you to cash transactions if they can convince you to use a loyalty card. In addition to enhancing data collection, loyalty cards can represent a significant switching cost. Use one of these cards and you're in effect giving up information about yourself in exchange for some kind of financial incentive. The explosion in retailer cards is directly related to each firm's desire to learn more about you and to turn you into a more loyal and satisfied customer.

Some cards provide an instant discount (e.g., the CVS Pharmacy ExtraCare card), while others allow you to build up points over time (Best Buy's Reward Zone). The latter has the additional benefit of acting as a switching cost. A customer may think "I could get the same thing at Target, but at Best Buy, it'll increase my existing points balance and soon I'll get a cash back coupon".

Tesco: Tracked Transactions, Increased Insights, and Surging Sales

UK grocery giant Tesco, the planet's third-largest retailer, is envied worldwide for what analysts say is the firm's unrivaled ability to collect vast amounts of retail data and translate this into sales.

Tesco's data collection relies heavily on its ClubCard loyalty program, an effort pioneered back in 1995. But Tesco isn't just a physical retailer. As the world's largest Internet grocer, the firm gains additional data from Web site visits, too. Remove products from your virtual shopping cart? Tesco can track this. Visited a product comparison page? Tesco watches which product you've chosen to go with and which you've passed over. Done your research online, then traveled to a store to make a purchase? Tesco sees this, too.

Tesco then mines all this data to understand how consumers respond to factors such as product mix, pricing, marketing campaigns, store layout, and Web design. Consumer-level targeting allows the firm to tailor its marketing messages to specific subgroups, promoting the right offer through the right channel at the right time and the right price. To get a sense of Tesco's laser-focused targeting possibilities, consider that the firm sends out close to ten million different, targeted offers each quarter. Offer redemption rates are the best in the industry, with some coupons scoring an astronomical 90 percent usage!

The firm's data-driven management is clearly delivering results. Even while operating in the teeth of a global recession, Tesco repeatedly posted record corporate profits and the highest earnings ever for a British retailer.