How Sainsbury’s Democratized Its Data to Empower Every Colleague

Explore how this leading retailer in the United Kingdom established an enterprise data and analytics strategy to transform information into a competitive edge.

Executive Summary

Investing in a data-driven strategy helped Sainsbury’s transform its analytics into a competitive advantage—ensuring it understands the needs of its customers better than anyone else.

The Challenge:

Sainsbury’s adopted a holistic acquisition and consolidation strategy to address the rapid modernization of the retail marketplace, maintain its leadership position, and adapt to evolving customer expectations around the shopping experience. Its various brands leveraged dozens of disparate systems and hundreds of siloed analytics solutions—resulting in accuracy and consistency challenges.

The Solution: 

Sainsbury’s boldly embraced change and implemented a unified data and analytics (D&A) strategy to establish a trusted data fabric fit to serve its entire organization. At the nexus of its D&A ecosystem, it leveraged MicroStrategy to build a scalable and governed data model and deliver robust reporting requirements. Ultimately, Sainsbury’s deployed a comprehensive suite of applications that deliver best-in-class analytics experiences to 12,000+ colleagues across its business, powered solely by Snowflake, AWS, and the MicroStrategy Cloud.

The Impact:

Today, colleagues across Sainsbury’s leverage over 30 custom analytics applications to drive everyday decision-making on the store floor, across corporate functions, in the C-suite, and beyond—all deployed with a single cloud analytics platform.

Data and Analytics Success by the Numbers

12K+

colleagues using apps across stores, depots, and offices

650K+

weekly report views across the organization

150K+

manhours saved annually by democratizing D&A access

30+

custom analytics applications

1

enterprise BI platform


Learn how Sainsbury’s leverages D&A to streamline operations across its 1,400+ stores—providing great food and convenient shopping for millions of customers each year.

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Customer Spotlight

Sainsbury’s is a leading retailer in the United Kingdom that sells food, clothing, general merchandise, and more through in-person and online channels.

Sainsbury’s has been committed to offering delicious, great quality food at competitive prices since John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury opened their first store on London’s Drury Lane in 1869. For over 150 years, Sainsbury’s has enjoyed market leadership throughout the UK through its steadfast commitment to helping everyone eat better.

With two-thirds of the population having shopped at Sainsbury’s over the last year, today it is the second largest grocery retailer in the UK, claiming a 15% share of the overall market. The Sainsbury’s portfolio also boasts a robust online presence with over 1 billion online visits annually through Argos, the third most visited retail website in the UK. Between these flagship brands, the company offers both online and Click & Collect shopping experiences, garnering tens of millions of transactions each week.

Sainsbury’s is driven by a passion for food and commitment to providing superior service to every customer. As a longtime partner and now owner of Nectar, the UK’s largest loyalty program serving over 18 million shoppers, Sainsbury’s enhances customer value by allowing shoppers to collect and spend points across hundreds of brands. 

Sainsbury’s corporate stewardship initiatives also support a variety of service programs by donating funds and surplus food, supplies, and services to community causes. As a champion for sustainability, Sainsbury’s has implemented a variety of initiatives aligned to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals that champion the environment and will ultimately allow it to achieve Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions for its operations by 2035. Sainsbury’s is also the Principal Supermarket Partner of COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, recently held in Glasgow, Scotland.

Sainsbury’s by the numbers:
  • £28B+ retail sales annually
  • 189K colleagues across the organization
  • 2.7M customers engaged via feedback programs annually
  • 1,400+ supermarkets and convenience stores
  • 89% colleague engagement received on the Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI) survey

Sainsbury’s by community impact:
  • £35M raised for charitable causes last year
  • 24M meals distributed during the pandemic through partnership with FareShare
  • £1B investment to achieve Net Zero across its own operations by 2035

Sainsbury’s by the brand:

The Journey to Intelligence Everywhere

Adopting a bold strategy helped Sainsbury’s rethink its approach to data democratization—resulting in broad analytics adoption for everyday decision-making across its enterprise.

As a leading retailer, Sainsbury’s has traditionally embraced change and evolving technology. This is no surprise for an organization that recently celebrated its 150th birthday. With a rapidly evolving market landscape in an industry that demands daily decision-making and streamlined processes, Sainsbury’s knew that it needed to make bold moves to stay on the cutting edge.

The strategic approach Sainsbury’s took, represented in its ASPIRE initiative, is a textbook success story about how visionary leadership and goalsetting can quickly transform an organization. Sainsbury’s reimagined its business model, democratized its data, and operationalized analytics—empowering its colleagues to use trusted insights to make informed business decisions and work smarter each day.

Through ASPIRE, Sainsbury’s sought to facilitate its digital transformation by establishing a unified data fabric for its organization with as few technologies as possible, relying on a select few best-in-breed cloud data and analytics (D&A) technologies to make access as “ubiquitous and easy as breathing oxygen” across its organization. Its simplified yet powerful solution stack leverages the MicroStrategy Cloud at its foundation, which is supported by an underlying AWS infrastructure packaged directly into the solution. The powerful semantic graph offered by MicroStrategy centrally stores and manages Snowflake data with a high degree of customizable governance to ensure that information leveraged by each colleague, no matter their role or location, is the right data needed to inform the best possible business decisions based on Sainsbury’s single version of the truth. 

Initially launching a completely reimagined and fully optimized mobile app for store operations, Sainsbury’s took bold strokes to ensure its store-based colleagues and regional managers had the insights needed to make real-time decisions that help improve sales, reduce waste, and minimize shrink due to inventory loss—ultimately achieving high user adoption and exceeding 150,000 views each week for this application alone. Building on the success of its store reports app, Sainsbury’s migrated more data to Snowflake and adopted an agile development model that allowed it to continuously roll out new analytics apps and enhancements designed to serve the unique needs of 12,000+ users.

Success Criteria for Enterprise D&A

Sainsbury’s embraces a cloud-first strategy toward corporate technology investment. Its enterprise analytics solution needed to seamlessly integrate with its preferred cloud data vendor, maintain superior security, and easily scale to serve thousands of users.

The Sainsbury’s team chose the MicroStrategy Cloud, connected to Snowflake data stores, as the best-fit foundation for its enterprise D&A mission based on a comprehensive list of selection criteria.

  • Optimized Architecture with Best-in-Breed Technologies
  • Ability to Establish a Unified and Trusted Data Model
  • Rapid Enhancement Deployment at Enterprise Scale
  • Streamlined Geospatial Mapping Integrations
  • Best-in-Class Mobile Analytics Capabilities
  • Compliance-Ready with Robust Data Security
  • Deliver Job-Relevant Data from the CEO to the Shop Floor
Today, Sainsbury’s leverages a custom suite of 30+ MicroStrategy apps to enable analytics use cases across all aspects of its business, spanning go-to-market strategy and execution, competitive pricing and positioning, buying and merchandising, supply chain management, store operations, and a variety of corporate functions. It even helped Sainsbury’s rapidly react and effectively respond to complex challenges presented by the global pandemic.

      

“It’s a rare and beautiful thing when you’re able to establish an entire ecosystem that offers data and insight to everyone in your organisation. But that’s what we set out to achieve—using great technology to get timely, impactful information into the hands of great people. 

Leveraging the MicroStrategy Cloud as our enterprise analytics solution proved key to our widespread adoption. Its underlying data model, scalability, security and brilliant visualisation really couldn’t be beaten. All proved critical to getting actionable insights into the hands of colleagues on the store floor and through every aspect of our business.”

 

Phil Jordan

Chief Information Officer

Architecting an Enterprise Solution 

Embracing a simplified D&A architecture, powered by best-in-breed cloud technologies, Sainsbury’s unified its data fabric—and instilled a data-driven culture across its enterprise.

One of Europe’s earliest enterprise-wide adopters of cloud-based D&A technologies, Sainsbury’s recognized that delivering unified information across its business could have a transformative impact while helping it deliver the best value to customers.

Sainsbury’s sought out a single analytics platform to complement a single cloud data warehouse for its technology stack, confident that the best technical solution for engraining D&A in its everyday business processes and enabling its people would result from a simplified but powerful architecture comprised of select best-in-breed solutions. Dissatisfied with its legacy on-premises DWHs, Sainsbury’s determined that MicroStrategy could best integrate with its preferred cloud DWH for the future and deliver on the myriad of analytical needs of the thousands of users it planned to serve across its business. MicroStrategy, with its long history as a key analytics partner in certain aspects of Sainsbury’s business, partnered with Snowflake on a 1-day technical proof-of-concept leveraging retail finance data. This POC demonstrated the superior performance, security, and scalability MicroStrategy delivers, further providing Sainsbury’s the confidence it needed to make the bold decision and adopt an entirely new centralized, cloud-powered D&A architecture.

Furthermore, MicroStrategy demonstrated how its enterprise semantic layer offered superior data governance and performance at scale, helping Sainsbury’s develop and deploy an entirely new way of empowering store colleagues with on-the-go analytics with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and company-issued mobile devices. Ultimately, MicroStrategy became the sole analytics solution for facilitating its enterprise D&A vision: helping Sainsbury’s modernize its solution suite, expand trusted analytics to 12,000+ users across its organization, and increase employee engagement and customer satisfaction—all by setting itself apart with a pervasive culture of data.

D&A Challenges to Overcome

Sainsbury’s overcame several pervasive challenges in data and analytics to establish a scalable and sustainable data-driven culture at the foundation of its business.

  • Too many tools: Over 30+ DWHs and several analytics and visualizations solutions were used across the organization.
  • Data discord: Disconnected data sources yielded conflicting versions of the truth, bringing data accuracy and consistency into question.
  • Insufficiency to scale: Strictly controlled data access, manual analytics processes, data model limitations with legacy tech, and skillsets gaps across a range of tools, presented challenges when extending insights to more colleagues.
  • Mobile security: Authentication challenges stemmed from the expanded adoption of BYOD options, in addition to company-provisioned devices for accessing analytics apps.
  • App applicability: Application maintenance required significant time, investment, and upkeep when multiple solutions and versions were offered for different device types.

“Having MicroStrategy as our sole analytics engine of record is a game-changer. At this scale, retail is an incredibly complex business comprised of dozens of overlapping functions, systems, and processes—and sometimes even more technologies.

MicroStrategy enables us to provide all colleagues and management with consistent intelligence which they can act upon.”

 

Steven Henson-Tyers

Head of Data Visualisation

Solution Architecture for an Intelligent Enterprise

Accelerating Results with D&A Partner Expertise

To further its ASPIRE initiative, Sainsbury’s partnered with MicroStrategy Consulting to optimize its data model performance and security while facilitating scalability and growth.

D&A experts conducted a custom 10-day Analytics Advisory engagement to help Sainsbury’s explore and visualize its data object relationships in an interactive Dossier, identifying a variety of model modifications to improve performance both within the MicroStrategy semantic layer and their Snowflake data warehouse. Once implemented, these enhancements helped Sainsbury’s establish a powerful and sustainable data foundation to build upon for years to come.

“Even in the recent past, access to data was tightly controlled by people with ‘IT’ in their titles—it was guarded and only released after forensic scrutiny. 

MicroStrategy helped us liberate our data so that we could better understand our customers and our business.”

 

Helen Hunter

Chief Technology Officer

Data and Analytics in Action 

Management teams across all stores leverage daily KPIs and overall trends to inform and manage store operations using this essential mobile app.

Sainsbury’s colleagues across all 1,400+ stores rely on this store-centric operational reporting app to access powerful business performance insights everyday—enabling managers to make real-time product, merchandising, and staffing decisions directly from the store floor.

The first D&A application Sainsbury’s actively reimagined as it modernized its approach by adopting best-in-breed cloud technologies was its Store Reports app for managing sales, waste, and shrink (SWS). This apps allows store and category managers to monitor, manage, and actively address critical retail KPIs in near real-time by providing managers with aggregate and drill-down views of performance metrics spanning product and category inventory, sales, turnover, budgeting, revenue, and other indicators that help direct colleague actions to improve the retail shopping experience for customers. Furthermore, by embracing agile development practices, Sainsbury’s regularly releases new Dossier chapters as app enhancements designed to help store colleagues align their activities to achieve goals related with corporate initiatives.

Built with a modular approach, this dynamic solution also features context-sensitive links that connect an array of dashboards together into one seamless experience. In addition to providing insights into topline KPIs, this also allows business users to view new chapters and reports published to support tactical initiatives—strategic focus areas that store colleagues focus on for designated time periods to affect a specific customer experience change, enhancement, or new service introduction.

 

D&A Solution Details

  • App Names: Store SWS Reports
  • Audience: 12,000+ store and category managers who average 150K+ views each week 
  • Top KPIs: Percentage and Forecast for Sales, Waste, Shrink, and Margin
  • Key Features: Responsive rendering for tablet, phone, and web, with dynamic filtering, contextual linking, and collaboration 
  • Products & Clients: Dossiers auto-optimized for in-store consumption on BYOD and company-issued mobile devices and Zebra tablets
  • Data: Product availability, sales, waste, and supply chain data from Snowflake, plus additional key metrics incorporated at regular intervals to promote corporate initiatives
    
“This app has evolved into a mainstay solution to help us fulfill our core mission of optimising customer experience across every store. 
Essentially, we saved our Sainsbury’s store colleagues tens of thousands of labour hours per year with this app alone, by giving them on-the-go access to near real-time insights that help them take action. This solution has had a truly remarkable impact, and especially speaking as part of the team who delivered it, I’m proud to be a part of it.”
 

Steven Henson-Tyers

Head of Data Visualisation

    

This shopper sentiment app analyses and aggregates near real-time customer experience data to surface insights with a custom NLQ text search widget. 

Gaining near real-time insights into the experience of its shoppers is a critical pillar for helping Sainsbury’s achieve its strategic goal of being a place where people love to work and shop. That’s why it leverages Nectar, its loyalty points program, to incentivize customers to share feedback that it can integrate into decision-making. 

Through Lettuce Know, one of Sainsbury’s key customer feedback initiatives that offers bonus Nectar points to participants, shoppers submit information about their recent shopping experiences online using unique identifiers printed on each receipt. Sainsbury’s then leverages a Python-enriched ETL process to aggregate and tag this data in Snowflake, which is in turn organized and visualized for user analysis in MicroStrategy.

Analysts leverage this application, which features a custom text-based search widget with natural language query (NLQ) functionality, to examine customer feedback, identify trends, drill-down on key findings, and share near real-time recommendations for improving the customer shopping experience with store managers.

 

D&A Solution Details

  • App Name: Lettuce Know
  • Audience: 9,200 analysts, store managers, and category managers
  • Top KPIs: Text-based inputs categorized by 20+ themes and aggregated into key metrics for stores, products, and colleagues
  • Key Features: Smart KPIs, category mapping, and Boolean search logic integrated into the capabilities of the app’s custom text search widget
  • Products & Clients: Dossier auto-optimized for both web browsers and mobile devices
  • Data: Python script-enriched data aggregated and stored in Snowflake
      
“The Lettuce Know app is a prime example of how we’ve successfully democratised customer experience information across our business. Essentially, we’ve given the voice of the customer to everyone who needs those insights to help us perfect our customer offer.
The central team uses this app to understand customer sentiment trends. Beyond that, we’re also able to provide that information to the people who have the biggest role to play in influencing customer satisfaction—the colleagues in our stores.” 
 

Steven Henson-Tyers

Head of Data Visualisation

     

Sainsbury’s rapidly developed and deployed this sophisticated solution to align its staffing, supply chain, and operations to continue feeding the nation despite the unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leveraging the unified data fabric it established across its business, Sainsbury’s rapidly innovated to meet the complex needs of the COVID-19 pandemic—using its robust D&A strategy to best serve and protect colleagues and customers.

In early 2020, businesses worldwide rapidly reacted to the myriad of challenges presented by the emerging public health crisis. Relying on its agile D&A operating model to do so, Sainsbury’s rapidly innovated to help it grapple with store operations interruptions, supply chain shortages, staffing challenges, public health concerns, and other complexities.

Within just one week, Sainsbury’s piloted a new analytics app that helped its store and regional leadership allocate resources to address staffing and supply chain shortages. Within two weeks, it had developed enhancements based on store feedback from its pilot group, and deployed a comprehensive app to colleagues across every store. This app enabled users to overcome a variety of challenges during the lockdown and subsequent stages of the pandemic response, including identifying optimal adjustments to store hours to address shifted customer shopping patterns, prioritizing shipping and stocking of essential supplies, using geospatial analyses to redeploy colleagues while minimizing travel requirements, operating store hours designated for vulnerable customers and National Health Service (NHS) workers, and much more.

 

D&A Solution Details

  • App Name: COVID-19 Response
  • Audience: 3,000+ store managers plus dozens of regional managers and executives
  • Top KPIs: Product Availability, Product Sales, Colleague Attendance and Availability
  • Key Features: Geospatial services, trend visualization, self-service data discovery, and dynamic filtering
  • Products & Clients: Dossiers auto-optimized for both web browsers on computers and in-store consumption via mobile devices
  • Data: Sales, fulfillment, supply chain, and colleague data from Snowflake
       
“During lockdown, feeding the nation had to be our priority. As our primary intelligence platform, we relied heavily on MicroStrategy to help us understand how to redirect our resources to achieve specific operational outcomes.” 

Helen Hunter

Chief Technology Officer

      

Sainsbury’s leverages 30+ custom applications to support its go-to-market strategy and execution, store operations, and corporate functions. Here are some additional highlights from its sophisticated suite of analytics applications.
Go-to-Market Strategy

Value Index App: Leverages product, sales, and business hierarchy data to analyze the price competitiveness of Sainsbury’s brands and third-party products—informing local, regional, and overall product pricing strategies.

Ordered Items App: Conducts market basket analyses and predicts future ordering and bulk buying patterns to help Sainsbury’s define its buying and merchandising strategy and proactively stock stores to meet demand.

Retail Priorities App: Aggregates dozens of insights about store, product, customer service, and digital performance to identify success measures for key retail priorities and help align Store and Customer Manager activities.

Store Operations

Front End App: Shares process and performance insights for SmartShop, a self-scan shopping app available on customers’ mobile devices, to help streamline the shopper experience and drive customer participation—contributing to increased customer checkout process satisfaction rates.

Slot Availability App: Analyzes existing orders, staffing levels, delivery time availability, and peak season purchasing patterns to recommend when specific stores should offer more timeslots to meet demand—optimizing scheduling to help Sainsbury’s fulfill 850,000+ online orders per week while sales grew.

Pick Progress and Root Causes Apps: Delivers live insights into store colleague progress while “picking” online order items off the shelves and enables Digital Retail Operations Managers to address constraints—increasingly important since online grocery sales more than doubled to over 17% of all purchases in 2020.

Corporate Functions

Financial Management: Provides trusted and consistent financial insights to key stakeholders across various departments through streamlined interfaces and automated distribution—replacing highly disconnected and manual reporting processes built on legacy BI tools that yielded contrasting numbers. 

Supply Chain Operations: Supports the vital processes that ensure availability of products in stores and monitors shifting patterns in demand to maintain supply chain health—providing a reliable and satisfactory shopping experience for customers, even during the challenges posed by the global pandemic.

Other ASPIRE Applications: An array of other apps that analyze core business functions like HR, Operations, Buying, Merchandising, and Customer Loyalty—and even unique solutions aligned to industry initiatives and corporate values, such as enabling Sainsbury’s to monitor and manage agricultural welfare.

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Focus on the Future

By resisting the urge to lift-and-shift, the Sainsbury’s team successfully established a unified D&A landscape for use everywhere across its business. Sainsbury’s built this trusted and governed data fabric on a powerful yet simplified infrastructure—establishing an enterprise-grade foundation fit for long-term success. 
      
“Our ASPIRE initiative has truly transformed Sainsbury’s—and MicroStrategy has been a key driver of that transformation. 
By creating a single, trusted resource that provides meaningful information to all of our colleagues, we’ve made insights accessible to everyone and established a data-to-decision culture at the heart of our business.”
 

Helen Hunter

Chief Technology Officer

       

What’s Next in the D&A Roadmap

Sainsbury’s expects the D&A investments from its ASPIRE initiative to continue driving business value. Here is how it plans to enhance its solution suite in the coming months.

  • Actively ASPIRE: Implement a new, multi-chapter Dossier that leverages web-based customer satisfaction data from Argos to deliver new shopping experience insights to thousands of users.
  • Become HyperIntelligent: Aggregate store, customer, and product information into HyperIntelligence cards that deliver trusted data-driven insights to 100% of the organization—in the context of the websites and apps where they work.
  • Empower suppliers: Launch a web-based supplier portal that features embedded, interactive analytics from MicroStrategy to help provide suppliers a 360-degree view of their partnership with Sainsbury’s in one unified application.
  • Integrate AI: Release enhancements to existing apps that leverage artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other data science techniques to conduct analyses that help anticipate customer shopping habits and proactively manage risks.
  • Take a test drive: Prototype a MicroStrategy “concept car” that integrates Kafka messaging services, Mapbox geospatial functionality, and sophisticated visualizations to drive new business value with real-time reporting.

Success Strategies for Enterprise Analytics

A bold and visionary approach to enterprise D&A led Sainsbury’s to implement an architecture that could best achieve data democratization and establish a foundation for success—both today and in the future. Leveraging best-in-breed technologies and techniques, Sainsbury’s established a unified data fabric to serve the needs of the entire organization with a simplified yet powerful infrastructure. Sainsbury’s also deployed a suite of sophisticated analytics apps to thousands of users, empowering colleagues across its business. 

Top 5 Takeaways to Achieve Your D&A Objectives

Be bold:

Embrace change openly to ensure you’re positioned to take advantage of the myriad of D&A advancements offered by best-in-class technologies and techniques. 

Rethink your reality:

Focus on users’ needs today, not legacy frameworks, and boldly realign teams, restructure processes, and redesign solutions to best serve them.

Establish your single truth: 

Model a governed data fabric that ensures everyone in your enterprise arrives at the same insights from your analytics.

Simplify your stack:

Invest in fewer, complementary technologies to take advantage of leading capabilities and create skillset synergies for empowering your colleagues.

Trust in your vision:

 You’ve looked at D&A with fresh eyes to set your strategy and chart your course—carry on knowing that big business impacts will materialize.

“As best practice, we decided to collaborate with best-in-class partners and adopt the most future-proof technology to liberate our data and build a holistic ecosystem for insights. Honestly, when you invest in this approach, the technology itself is the easy bit.

To affect cultural change, you must design solutions that are easy to use and instill trust. You may need to build apps to facilitate workflows, or conversely, re-engineer business processes around the insights derived from your data and analytics. By treating data not just as a key asset, but as the fundamental core of your business, you can shift individual and collective behaviours in a truly powerful and transformative way.”

 

Phil Jordan

Chief Information Officer

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