Point of sale (POS) data has long been the domain of the retailer that collects it. It hasn’t always available – in detail, anyway – to manufacturers and suppliers that could use the data for such things as demand planning, improving supply chains to avoid stock outs and to better understand and act on buying habits so they can more accurately allocate advertising dollars. Of course, all those benefits would in turn benefit the retailers, which could improve planning and forecasting, reduce (or eliminate) stock outs, and even have leverage to enact and enforce service level agreements with suppliers.
Slowly but surely, more and more retailers are sharing sales data as POS transactions with more and more vendors. Mass merchants have led the way, and many now share POS data with their suppliers. As many as 120 retailers have implemented collaborative programs in which they share store-level sales data, inventory data, and margin information. Drug retailers and grocers have not been as forthcoming, but there is movement even in those sectors. Drug store chains CVS Caremark Corp. and Walgreen Co., for example, do, as do many of the grocers including The Kroger Co. and Safeway Inc. Whenever retailers and suppliers share POS data, the general outcome is a far more strategic relationship with advantages for both.
Just recently there’s been another development that could help spur POS data sharing. A group of the merchants announced formation of Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), a new company dedicated to offering consumers a versatile mobile-commerce experience that will combine the convenience of paying at the register with customizable offers. MCX is currently developing a mobile application for merchants that will integrate a wide range of consumer offers, promotions and retail programs. The application will work with any smartphone. Merchants involved in MCX include 7-Eleven, Inc., Best Buy Co., Inc.; CVS/pharmacy, Lowe’s; Publix Super Markets, Inc., Sears Holdings; Shell Oil Products US, Target Corp., and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., among others.
Little else has been released regarding MCX’s plans or details about any payment schemes, data sharing, etc. But in a blog on VentureBeat.com, Stephen Carpenter, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Endorse.com and former Entrepreneur in Residence at Accel Partners, posited an interesting possibility about data sharing. In his blog, Carpenter said MCX indicates an “unprecedented level of cooperation presumably in an area they consider a closely guarded state secret: sharing customer purchase data.” Granted, as a brand new organization it remains to be seen just how far MCX goes, and how successful its mobile payment network under development becomes. But it seems obvious the MCX will be able to collect a ton of customer data that will be flowing in and out and between all the members’ walls. What Carpenter sees is opportunity to collect and use customer data beyond ways retailers currently do. A retailer could know, for example, know where its customers shop and what they buy when they are out at another retail shop. Carpenter, by the way, isn’t overly optimistic that one retailer will let another see its customer data. For that matter, I’m not either.
But imagine if MCX could extend that data to suppliers and manufacturers – many of whom are providing the goods that stock the shelves of MCX’s member merchants. Suppliers could get store level POS data in all different ways: by retailer, by region, by product without having to merge and/or parse the data they currently get from the retailers (which as we all know can be quite detailed from some merchants and less so from others). Suppliers could also get item-level POS data in similar ways. What MCX could do is provide yet another aggregate of POS data, and could be a catalyst for increased data sharing. Time will tell.