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July 12, 2013

Predictive Solutions - Are you still using Excel?

Merchandise Finance Industry has come a long way since the launch of VisiCalc, the first ever row-column spreadsheet program. Path breaking solutions such Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel have made planning easy and accurate. With the advent of multi-channel commerce, merchandise planning requires more than just crunching numbers. A planner has to evaluate multiple factors such as competitor strategy, product launch and trends from the past while planning. Excel is limited in its ability to assist a planner in this complex new world. 

Oracle Retail offers a Merchandise Optimization and Planning Framework that helps retailers make smarter decisions with their predictive analytics based solution. This framework is called Retail Predictive Application Server (RPAS). RPAS is embedded with sophisticated mathematical models, forecasting algorithms, and optimization routines which can analyze and extract information such as what products should be on store shelves and the optimum pricing strategy based on trends and fluctuations in consumer demands.


Unlike Microsoft Excel, the planning data in RPAS is organized into "workbooks" and hierarchies such as "location","calendar" and "product" in a centralized repository. Each planner doesn't have to maintain a local copy and can thus eliminate inconsistent planning strategies. RPAS improves business plan accuracy by forecasting demand rather than analyzing the sales history alone. Additionally, it evaluates and identifies new areas of opportunities to meet top-down merchandise targets.

With RPAS bringing so many benefits to the table, will it be a good replacement for Excel? Excel seamlessly integrates with most products available in the market and planners are comfortable using it. But RPAS has the advantage of predictive analytics and is likely to gradually gain ground over Excel in the future.