McPen: Built and Run on Data

McPen is a European chain distributor of stationery goods. They are one of the first small to mid-sized retailers who use a data-driven approach to business and enable equal access to data to all of their employees.

Initial situation

Embarking on their data-driven business journey, McPen realized that to excel in the stationery goods space, they would need to create a competitive advantage with a unique operational management system. In order to identify retail solutions specific to their business, they wanted to combine many previously unconnected data sources, and upgrade and speed up their reporting process.

Where Keboola came in

Assisted by the Ascoria team, our partner, McPen’s CEO Milan Petr configured the new system from scratch and without the help of a single developer. McPen began to pull data from sources like their POS, Frames and other retail sources, allowing everybody in the company to use this compiled and easily accessible data to find solutions to their real retail problems.


Focusing on lean operations and adding new features, Milan created a system that benefitted the entire organization. He knew that to effectively manage shifts in business, he had to involve every part of the organization in making decisions based on data. Leading by example, he developed and studied the system in detail to understand its impact on daily operations. He then provided access and support directly to the people on the floor to empower them to make necessary strategic decisions and improve their daily results.

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Surprising benefits and results

Examined data showed that in order to maximize profitability, McPen needed to upsell customers. And while their biggest income comes from customers who spend between 200 and 500 CZK (around 8 to 20 USD), it is the 42% of all McPen customers spending up to 50 CZK (around 2 USD) who have the biggest potential for the upsell.

Amazon's anticipatory shipping

Amazon is just making the next logical step against traditional retail

I’ve now read about a dozen various reactions to Amazon’s patent on their “anticipatory shipping”. (you probably saw, or even read, USA Today’s article recommended on Linkedin). While I don’t dispute the brilliance of the idea, I think it’s worth mentioning that we’re looking at fairly expectable extension of Amazon’s logistical model, with a bit of excellent lateral thinking thrown into the mix.

When you think about it, brick-and-mortar retail chains have been doing the same thing since their inception. “Shipping into a general geographic area” is in their language called “putting goods on shelves” in a particular store. They use exactly the same data analytic techniques to estimate how much to put there to avoid both mark-downs and run-outs. Walmart built much of its success on the ability to know exactly how much to have where and when. Replace the word “store location” (which serves people in particular area) with “general geographic area” (state, county, zip-code) and you are back in Amazon’s world.

With the data it has, Amazon can of course predict orders in a particular area at least with the same accuracy Walmart can determine how many boxes of a particular toothpaste to put on a truck in their DC today so it hits the store just at the right time. It’s not perfect, but it does work very well indeed. Now if you imagine that the “general geographical area” happens to be an area served by a particular UPS depot, then all you need to do is to send the stuff there and then just collect the orders by the time the local delivery vans are being loaded. The better your “prediction”, the fewer items will be left at the depot without addressee that day (which may even be, up to a point, just fine with UPS, given how much business they see from Amazon), and the fewer people will have to wait additional day to get their items. Amazon is effectively distributing their DC closer to the user, using the trucks and planes as their warehouse.

Adrian Gonzales in his post looks at the whole thing from an additional, very interesting angle. The shipments to a particular area can become in a way self-fulfilling prophecies. The one thing traditional retail still holds over the on-line business is the ability to posses the wished item right there and then. While Amazon won’t be shipping to you shelves of items to pick from and send back what you don’t want any time soon, with the package already on the way at the time of your order, they’re coming pretty close. With this (on average) shorter time between order and delivery, with the cost of shipping staying standard unlike with same-day deliveries, Amazon is further strengthening its offering and increasing the reason why people would buy online rather than going to a store. In addition to that, they’re opening doors to impulse purchasing (“we think you probably want this, we have an extra on a truck near you, click yes/no”). Or imagine dutch auction for those not-yet-spoken-for items. Price is dropping until someone says yes and “outbids” the others.

At Keboola, we are working with clients on both sides of this online v. brick-and-mortar struggle. Both principles have place in our future shopping habits, but both of them need to work hard to balance the advantages of the other. Data happens to be the weapon of choice on both sides. While online retailers are trying to eliminate the time-to-value gap of purchases against retail, traditionals are learning more and more about us, individual shoppers, and our patterns. So what will be Bentonville’s answer to Amazon’s challenge? Maybe a shopping cart, waiting for you at the entrance of Walmart, already pre-loaded with the items you are almost certainly planning to buy today. You then just pick up the few unusual pieces and off you go.


Milan Veverka