Imagine you are the owner of a modest grocery store in your neighborhood. You know most of your customers in person and you do a pretty good job of fulfilling their demands. After a while, your hardwork pays off and now, you open three new branches in different neighborhoods. It is hard to stay on top of needs of four stores but thanks to more coffee and less sleep, you still rock. Then one day, you achieve a milestone and open your tenth store. How to analyze the requirements of so many stores? What if you have dozens of stores? Hundreds? Thousands? Could you still succeed to stay connected with your customers and figure out similarities and differences in product preferences, lifestyles, and purchasing power across all locations?
Let’s reframe the case. Is it wise to plan by overall numbers or averages when you are the head of an enormous chain store? As a known fact, mean values tend to hide variances across different parts of the business. That kind of general information can only signal a major problem and usually hides opportunities.
So how to measure the performance of stores? Ordering by a metric and comparing the best and worst might be also useless most of the time times since they probably have different dynamics: for example, one store is in center-city while other in a suburb and hence they cater to a different customer base with vastly different purchase pattern and buying power. Now the question is how to find stores that have similar dynamics? Here comes Cluster Analysis for help!
To put it all in simple terms, cluster analysis is a method which groups objects according to their similarities. These similarities are measured by some predefined attributes such as shopping behavior of customers (market basket size), sales performance (revenue per week), price preferences (average sales price), store traffic, etc.
If the case is customer segmentation, then customers will be your objects. Your possible attributes will be all information you can gather from customers (demographics, shopping frequency, buying history etc.). After selecting the relevant attributes and clustering method, analysis can be applied to the data.
Although applying the Clustering seems so easy, results probably will be unsatisfying or lead to wrong inferences, if some key points are not regarded. Some of them are listed below.
In business applications, clustering analysis is generally used as a preprocessing step. The analysis can be conducted before Assortment Planning, Promotion Planning, or Markdown Optimization.
Customer segmentation which we discuss above might be an initial step for a promotion planning project. You can offer customized promotions to your customer segments by knowing their expectations.
Another example is Store Clustering for assortment planning. Supplying the right products to the right customers is crucial for retail chains. Without a store clustering, you cannot define the needs of your stores (or their customers). You can provide localized assortment plans according to a cluster of your stores.
For Store Clustering, you need to take a few key considerations into account. Deciding on which features to be used is critical. Store location, store type, demographics of customers are some of the attributes can be used. However, in many cases, using store attributes might not be sufficient. Clustering stores based on the sales performance of product categories is a well-known method for store clustering. In this method, stores are grouped for each product category according to the similarity of sales trend of that category.
Clustering is a tough issue, which has many details to be considered. Since it is applied as an initial step, misapplication might cause false implementation of further analysis. Thus, a professional help can improve the quality of analysis and plans immediately. Here is a list of features that Solvoyo customers benefit from: