Diapers, Pop-Tarts, and Dog Food

By John P. Girard, published in Prairie Business Magazine and available for download here.

In the early 1990’s, the retail industry watched with great interest as something called data mining gained popularity. For the first time, extremely powerful computers – well at least powerful in 1990’s terms – were available to analyze vast quantities of retail data. The talk of the town was that this pioneering technology would revolutionize the industry. Fifteen years later, many retailers have forgotten about the hype over data mining. Was this a missed opportunity or a wise use of scarce resources?

One of the first stories about data mining emerged from the England. In 1991, a team of data gurus worked with a large British grocery chain to try to find unusual quirks in their data – quirks that could be used to create a strategic advantage. After taking a deep dive into the data collected at check-outs across the country, the team found something very unexpected.