Wake Forest School of Business opens new retail learning labs

11.13.2014 Business Analytics, General, Innovation, Marketing, News Release, Retail, Reynolda Campus, School News

Shoppers’ “conversion” offers new insights to retailers

Winston-Salem, N.C., November 13, 2014 – As you push your grocery cart through the supermarket, you may be helping Wake Forest University School of Business students learn how to analyze and organize data that provides new, never-before-understood insights about shopper behavior to retailers. The School’s Center for Retail Innovation and the RockTenn – Lowes Foods Retail Learning Labs are providing real-time, real-world, in-store insights on shopping behavior. 

The School and its partners will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the official opening of the Retail Learning Labs on Friday, November 14, at 5 p.m. in Farrell Hall on the Wake Forest campus.

“It’s unique within an academic environment,” said Roger Beahm, executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation and professor of marketing. “Opening up a picture of what happens in the store in a way that hasn’t been done before, the RockTenn – Lowes Foods Retail Learning Labs will offer real-time learning and research opportunity for students and faculty, and key insights for the retail industry.”

The RockTenn – Lowes Foods Learning Labs are set up inside 10 Lowes Foods stores across North Carolina. State-of-the-art technology detects smartphone signals and tracks shoppers’ movements through the store, noting where they stop and think over a purchase, as well as which merchandising and promotions catch their attention and spark a purchase. Because it can also link up with the store’s loyalty card, the Retail Learning Labs can offer critical data about how in-store stimuli change purchase behavior, as well as a number of other important analytics never before captured in a live store environment.

“The ability to determine whether a product display can drive an in-store purchase, or watching whether shoppers consider an item because of a certain promotion can help retailers be more effective,” said Jon Kramer, vice president – marketing for RockTenn Merchandising Displays.  “It is this real-time data delivered by the learning lab that makes it a real game-changer for retailers and vendor partners.”  

The Retail Learning Labs aren’t just an opportunity to identify shopper traffic patterns through the store, but also a new way for Wake Forest students and faculty to research behavior, gather real-time data and analyze the results to provide actionable consumer insights.

“Clients have access to valuable shopper information through the Retail Learning Labs’ connection with retailers,” said Angie van der Merwe, a second year MBA student at the School of Business who helped set up the Retail Learning Labs. “The Center for Retail Innovation, along with its analytic partners, provides insights based on shopper behavior as a result of in-store stimuli – which will provide valuable insights into performance of brand promotional programming.”

Van der Merwe and Bill Ballard, another second year MBA student at the School, completed an internship with the Retail Learning Labs this summer. The students assisted with the collection, structuring and reporting of data and have been gathering baseline data since August. Later this month, Wake Forest Master of Arts in Management students will examine the raw data, organize it, extract information, and provide strategic insights as part of their course work.

“At Lowes Foods, we have embarked on an exciting journey of re-branding our stores to create a differentiated grocery shopping experience,” said Michael Moore, Lowes Foods chief marketing officer. “Hosting the Retail Learning Labs and utilizing new technology to augment our guest insights will help us more completely understand how we can best serve and delight our guests.”

The new technology tracks smartphone signals, giving each store visitor a unique, anonymous identifier at every visit. In the future, consumers will also be able to download an app to receive special in-store offers while they are shopping.  Instead of a general coupon push via email or text to a smartphone, these offers will be location-specific to store displays or products.

Research in the labs can last 8-12 weeks per test, and offer brands, faculty and students an opportunity to test variables during that time. Through a test/control store research design, retailers will be able to view shopper behavior, understand what’s working and what isn’t and adjust accordingly.

“Having this real-time data for our students and faculty makes this a huge win. They will gain current, real-world insights from their data analysis which gives the students hands-on experience before they graduate, and provides faculty with new research opportunities,” said Beahm. “Other schools have been buying data that is several years old, and for thousands of dollars. At Wake Forest, we are breaking new ground in business analytics with these Retail Learning Labs.”

Contact:  Stephanie Skordas, skordas@wfu.edu or 336.758.4098