A Goodwill Chapter's Quest to Become Data Driven

By integrating its disparate data systems, the Greater Grand Rapids store uncovers insights into its customers and employees.
Data Analytics

For decades, the Greater Grand Rapids branch of Goodwill Industries has supplied consumers with affordable clothing at its thrift stores. And like many retail stores, the branch's 20 stores were generating a mountain of customer data that wasn't being leveraged. The Goodwill branch needed a way to track and analyze the retail data being generated by its stores and find insights to make smarter business decisions.

"We knew we had a lot of data but it was stored in several different data systems," explains Tracy Amid, vice president of business intelligence at Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids. "We didn't have a way to pull the information together and look at it in a comprehensive way."

Goodwill was collecting data in Microsoft Dynamics ERP as well as marketing, POS, and HR systems none of which were integrated with each other. The organization also wanted a scalable solution that would be easy to make changes to as its needs evolve. Last year, Goodwill selected business intelligence provider Targit's Decision Suite to help it centralize its data and make more informed business decisions.

Over several months, Targit consultants worked with Amid's team to integrate data from the various systems into the Decision Suite. From there, Goodwill was able to begin uncovering insights that weren't previously available. For instance, by combining its marketing and POS databases, the company was able to see which shoppers hadn't visited its stores in the last six months. The company then sent an email along with a coupon inviting 2,000 of those customers to stop by.

"Only about 70 people redeemed the coupon within a week, which was disappointing," Amid says. "But we continued to track those shoppers with the Decision Suite and saw that actually over three months, more than 600 people redeemed the coupon and brought in over $20,000 in sales." In other words, the campaign was more successful than it initially appeared and Goodwill can apply that insight to the measurement of future offers.

Additionally, by analyzing its loyalty points system, the company now knows which customers make the most purchases versus those who make the highest value purchases as well as the time and day customers shop by segment. Receiving a fuller picture of its customers' behavior makes it easier for the company to measure the effectiveness of its promotions and refine future campaigns, Amid notes.

Connecting data from its ERP, POS, and HR systems also helps the company get a better view of staff allocations and where to optimize them. "We could see that some stores were short staffed but production was very high," Amid says. "While others had a lot of staff but low production, and still other stores had the right amount of staff."

The company's next goal is to roll out dashboards on monitors in the back offices of its stores so that store managers and employees can take advantage of the data insights on a more granular level. The Greater Grand Rapids branch has also created a new initiative in which a employees from each store will be selected to receive training and guidance as expert users of the software (the company did not specify what the criteria to become a trained expert will be). The company is "about halfway" into completing the rollout, Amid says. Once it's complete, employees will have access to key metrics like sales volume that will be displayed on the dashboards within all 20 retail locations. .

The organization is also planning to incorporate external data like weather data from the National Weather Service and employment numbers from the state demographer. "Obviously when there's a ton of snow falling in Michigan no one is coming to our stores, but there are other patterns we may not be aware of and incorporating those insights can help us plan more efficiently," Amid notes. "And we're hoping to start comparing employment numbers from the state with our stores to get a better understanding of how many people we're serving through our client and employment services."

For other nonprofit organizations that are unsure how to become more data driven, Amid's advice is "just start moving and make sure you have someone in the C-Suite who's supportive of the initiative." Integrating data systems can be overwhelming, she adds, but having the backing of a high-level executive helps employees stay motivated and on track.

Indeed, other Goodwill chapters have taken note of Greater Grand Rapids' success and are asking the Michigan chapter for advice. "It's great to see a movement taking place to be more data analytics driven," Amid says. "And hopefully with the data we'll all begin making better decisions."