Pier 1 Imports Uses Machine Learning to Stay a Step Ahead

With the holiday season bearing down on us, big data is poised to play a bigger role than ever in helping retailers gain an advantage.

When customers go to a Pier 1 Imports store, they know what to expect: an interesting assortment of décor and furnishing items, seasonal merchandise, gifts and other unique items. But increasingly, Pier 1 knows what to expect from its customers as well. The company is using advanced machine learning and cloud-based analytics to keep ahead of rising customer expectations and competitors in an increasingly data-driven retail industry.

“Pier 1 is a very data driven company,” said Eric Hunter, Pier 1’s Executive Vice President, Marketing. “The goal really is how we’re going to leverage that data and use it to have a better relationship with our customer.”

Insights in the cloud. The company recently launched an omni-channel initiative that uses Azure Machine Learning for predictive analytics. Azure Machine Learning, offered through Microsoft’s cloud services, mines historical data from multiple data sources to predict future trends and identify emergent behaviors.

“One of the reasons customers love Pier 1 is that we are their neighborhood store with over 1,000 stores in US and Canada that allows us to be close to the customer,” said Sharon Leite, Executive Vice President, Sales & Customer Experience, Pier 1 Imports. “But we know that how she is shopping today is different. We want our customer to be able to shop when where and how she wants.”

Anticipating the next purchase. Part of that involves figuring out what the customer might want before she knows she wants it, then acting on that knowledge in a way that’s helpful without seeming creepy or overbearing, and without filling up her inbox with offers that aren’t relevant.

“We can target our message specifically to what speaks to her,” said Leite. “Specifically what are the items that she is most passionate about that she most cares about, that she’s shopping for, and target a message specifically for her. That allows us to create a more personal experience for the customer.”

Blending science and art for better ROI. Machine learning allows Pier 1 to go beyond simple email targeting to identify specific products that a particular customer is most likely to be interested in next, based on a combination of aggregate merchandising data, probabilistic behavior patterns and elements unique to the customer’s own purchase history. Crunching that volume and variety of data used to require an enormous investment in on-premise computing technology and deep data science expertise, but the cloud-based solution brings advanced predictive capabilities within reach of nearly any business and any marketing professional.

From a business standpoint, the results translate to higher satisfaction, greater loyalty, more potential add-on sales and greater value in every customer relationship. The personalized experience helps bring customers back to the brand, supplementing the in-store customer service with data-driven insights.

“Marketing is really a combination of data and art,” said Hunter. “It’s really the science and the art that makes marketing. As much as I can get better data to improve the science side that makes the art side that much more impactful.”


Jeff Marcoux
CMO Lead, Microsoft
IMA Board Member


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