Best use of FastStats 2009 Award

Using FastStats to provide direct access to data for consistent reporting, analysis and campaign planning

Company Overview

Argos is part of Home Retail Group, the UK’s leading home and general merchandise retailer with sales of over £5.9 billion in the last financial year. launched in 2000 and is now one of the largest ecommerce businesses in the UK, selling in excess 24,000 products, with 30 million orders in the last 12 months. This equates to an average of 136,000 website visitors per day with email communications reaching in excess of 6 million customers per week. Argos is now the UK’s leading highstreet retailer online and was recently awarded Online Retailer of the Year 2009.


Argos has built up a substantial database of consenting eCommerce customers. In 2006 planning-inc developed a customer database to provide Argos with a single view of their customers and the ability to understand their customers’ overall online engagement with the brand. The database has an innovative design incorporating daily feeds of customer web and browsing behaviour by channel, email response data, registration/competition data and online transactional data for a truly digital single customer view.

FastStats integrates directly with the customer database to provide secure desktop access to the client.

The richness of data within the customer database enables customer centric tactical email campaigns to be developed and executed for the Argos eCRM customer contact strategy programme. However, the database was held, maintained and accessed by planning-inc which meant that Argos was not really able to get close enough to their data to understand in enough detail how customers were behaving.

planning-inc were tasked with introducing a front end data visualisation tool and campaign management platform to meet the following objectives:

  • Accessibility: Database reporting was provided through a number of reports, progressing over the years from PowerPoint, to Excel pivot tables and online OLAP cube. To support the business demands, Argos needed to access the database themselves to run counts, analysis and campaigns combining multiple data sources within the database, as well as create and refresh standardised business reports when required.  
  • Recency: The database was updated on a monthly basis, but this needed to be addressed to ensure accurate counts, analysis and campaigns were as accurate and up to date as possible. A weekly database refresh was required to reduce the time elapsed between activity and analysis.  
  • Flexibility: Changes to the database required consideration, time and cost. Argos regularly makes improvements to the website to improve the customers shopping experience. The database needed the ability to incorporate new feeds with relative ease and minimal cost.


To fulfil Argos’ requirements, planning-inc carried out three key projects:

  1. Redevelopment of the existing database to ensure consistent business reporting, where time can be spent interpreting, not finding, the results.
  2. Development and application of FastStats Discoverer and Cascade modules onto the eCRM database to provide client access to the database, 24/7.
  3. Development of FastStats Excelsior to ensure consistent business reporting, where time can be spent interpreting, not finding, the results.

A Steep Learning Curve

planning-inc had not previously worked with Apteco or delivered a FastStats solution for clients. Their first challenge was to ensure the technical teams were expert in the tool, whilst guaranteeing a timely delivery of the database redevelopment and FastStats Discoverer within 10 weeks. No small feat!

Thorough training and an easily accessible developer within Apteco for ad-hoc questions ensured that planning-inc were able to rise to this challenge and deliver FastStats to Argos on schedule whilst maintaining the granularity across the numerous data sources. This solution required planning-inc to develop, host and maintain two databases:

  • The Master Data Warehouse (MDW) containing all Argos data at its lowest granularity.
  • The Analytic Data Store (ADS) containing relevant data derived from the MDW for feeding into FastStats in order for the Argos eCRM team to support their business needs. 

FastStats Discoverer empowered Argos to really get to grips with their customers – understanding buyer profiles, perform counts and train of thought analysis to lead to robust, business relevant campaigns. In addition to increasing understanding of the customers, the tool has also reduced the time and cost previously associated with “quick queries”. But our challenges didn’t stop there…

Business Reporting - FastStats Excelsior

We had originally envisaged that standardised business reporting to monitor competition results, campaign results and customer metrics would be created within FastStats Discoverer. However, the complexity of the business reporting meant that we needed to generate a combination of virtual variables, expressions and cube look ups in order to get the desired results. For one summary chart in particular, we needed to create over 21 variables, expressions and cubes! To continue down this route would have resulted in a large and complex set of queries, pre-defined by planning-inc for Argos to run on a monthly basis. This would have also meant that Argos’ time would be spent running reports and creating a presentable report, not interpreting and using the results.

We quickly realised that FastStats Excelsior was needed to ensure consistent delivery of dashboard reports for campaigns, competitions and customer metrics; ensuring Argos’ time could be spent more valuably, interpreting and using the metrics.

Three Excelsior reports were developed with varying degrees of complexity:

  • Competition Dashboard
  • Campaign Dashboard
  • Customer Dashboard  

The Competition and Campaign Dashboards have the functionality for the user to select the activity of their choice before refreshing the report. This provides Argos with the flexibility to report on the statistics from any Competition or Campaign, and receive standardised metrics for comparison. The Customer Dashboard provides a summary statistics sheet, before delivering more detailed metrics on subsequent sheets.


FastStats integrates directly with the customer database to provide secure desktop access to the client. Having this access at their fingertips enables Argos to get close to their customer base to really understand customer behaviour and leverage this insight in a more tangible way to deliver intelligent eCRM programmes that deliver real value to the bottom line.

The reporting dashboards provides consistent reporting to the business, where time can be spent interpreting and using the results, not trying to identify the best way to create the selection and cube within Discoverer.

The tool also provides the perfect platform for test and learn. Campaigns are being set up robustly within Cascade with the necessary naming conventions and tracking codes - ensuring the campaign results are accurate and usable. A measurement strategy incorporating unmailed control cell, random audience cells along with the targeted audience cells is easy to implement and generating a vast pool of learnings for Argos. Initial results of the campaigns developed using FastStats Cascade are very positive.


The flexibility of the FastStats suite means the database can develop as the online shopping experience develops, such as the inclusion of new data sources to track acquisition codes, additional data capture at order completion and new data sources in store to enhance and validate the customer database.

FastStats is the perfect platform for test and learn, so Argos are able to test new campaign ideas and have the confidence that they can access up to date, accurate results to inform future decision making and campaign roll out. Going forward, the additional modules (such as modelling) will enable Argos to drive their customer communications forward using analysis techniques, without needing to employ a dedicated analyst.

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