Breuninger: Adding data insights to cart for a retailer on a mission to serve customers better

About Breuninger

Founded in 1881, luxury department store Breuninger is one of the most successful fashion and lifestyle businesses in Germany today, offering 1,000 brands across 11 stores, including flagships in Stuttgart and Düsseldorf, as well as its online storefront. The company has 5,500 employees and provides 15 premium services such as personal shopping and a shuttle service.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: Germany

Breuninger drives better-informed decisions across the organization by using Google Cloud-managed services to unite its complex IT landscape and make sense of data from a wide range of sources.

Google Cloud results

  • Accelerates time to insights with fully managed services that process data from varied sources on BigQuery
  • Makes data and API integration easy and fast with fully managed standardized solutions orchestrated on Google Kubernetes Engine
  • Frees time from infrastructure management, so teams can focus on discovering and sharing data insights across the organization
  • Enables better-informed decisions with data streaming and querying in real time on BigQuery

Integrates seamlessly with a complex IT landscape

Breuninger may be a 139-year-old retailer, but thanks to a corporate culture inspired by innovation, it’s anything but old fashioned. Focused on offering consistency and exclusivity to its customers, the German luxury retailer was one of the first in the country to install elevators in its department stores in the 1950s. In 1959, it also became the first German retailer to introduce a customer loyalty card. And now, Breuninger is embracing data analytics to continue breaking new ground and offer more value to its customers.

“There’s a German saying: retail is change,” shares Matthias Krenzel, Head of Data Platform Services at Breuninger, “and it’s true: customer behavior is constantly changing, so if your business model is stagnant, you won’t last.” For Matthias, the answer to maintaining its competitive edge was to embrace data as a way of driving innovation. “We want to use data analytics to understand market changes more deeply and to make better-informed decisions that respond to them,” he explains.

Before it could start applying data insights across its business, however, Breuninger needed to bring together its dispersed IT landscape.

“The company is fragmented into many departments, each with their own technology stack that focuses on their own use cases,” says Matthias. “We have on-premises databases, as well as many other systems such as SAP, all gathering different types of data for different business units. To make the most of our data as a company, we needed to find a common ground between all these systems.” For a solution capable of unifying its many different points of truth to inform decisions across the organization, Breuninger turned to Google Cloud.

“Google Cloud integrates seamlessly with all of our IT components, helping us unite and make more sense of our data. On top of that, despite being a relatively small account and only paying for what we use, we’ve received excellent support from the Google Cloud team throughout our journey.”

Matthias Krenzel, Head of Data Platform Services, Breuninger

Discovering new possibilities through data-driven decisions

One of the business areas where Breuninger sees exciting opportunities with data, is its online storefront at www.Breuninger.com, which brought a significant 30% of sales in 2018 alone. “The online shop has become part of a successful multichannel strategy for us, where our on-ground events and incentives lead customers to the website, and our presence in the online community keeps our brand top of mind,” shares Matthias. “Because we’re seeing remarkable growth in online sales, it makes sense to put more of our efforts into optimizing our website. A key first step in that journey is getting our data on track so we can use it to make the online customer experience smoother and more tailored to individual shoppers.”

When looking for a cloud partner to help its Data Platform Services Team make the most of its data, Breuninger had three priorities: to accelerate its time to data insights through analytics solutions, to make the varying components of its complex IT landscape interact smoothly, and to gain flexibility with a storage solution that allows it to incorporate more sources of data as needed. With these requirements in mind, Breuninger opted for Google Cloud, looking at its fully managed analytics services and scalable serverless database solution.

“I’m really happy about this decision,” says Matthias. “Google Cloud integrates seamlessly with all of our IT components, helping us unite and make more sense of our data. On top of that, despite being a relatively small account and only paying for what we use, we’ve received excellent support from the Google Cloud team throughout our journey.”

Breuninger now uses Cloud Storage to provision, share, and archive the data generated across its varying systems. With BigQuery, the retailer jumpstarts data analysis by querying streaming data in real time, gaining a wider visibility over different parts of the business. To extract data from diverse data sources, and then transform and load this data into BigQuery, Breuninger uses an array of fully managed microservices orchestrated by Google Kubernetes Engine.

Meanwhile, Breuninger feeds corporate data from modules in its SAP system into BigQuery and integrates its varying on-premises databases with the Google Cloud environment. The retailer’s customer loyalty card is also an SAP module: it works by using Qlik Replicate to mirror all card transactions in real time into BigQuery. “Building reports based on BigQuery is much faster and significantly more cost-effective than building custom reporting in SAP,” explains Matthias, adding, “Plus, it means we’re getting real-time customer insights, and that’s a game changer.” The company has also started testing Cloud Composer to orchestrate its full data pipeline spanning across cloud and on-premises data centers.

“Almost 90% of our business data is now loaded into BigQuery, but the truth is that our migration process will never be complete,” says Matthias. “Because the more data we analyze, the more departments start piping up and saying ‘ah, that’s interesting for us too!’ so we’re constantly coming up with ideas for new applications that require adding new data sources to BigQuery.”

One of these new applications was born out of what Matthias calls an “accidental use case”: Breuninger’s customer relations team wanted to help customers request items that they wanted to buy but couldn’t find in stock online. The solution, which now notifies customers when wanted items are available again, started collecting new data as soon as it went live. Matthias’ team then turns this data into business intelligence information using BigQuery. Picking up on this new source of insight, Breuninger’s purchasing department now relies on this new data to fine-tune its forecasting strategy.

“We used to rely on survivor bias to inform our purchasing forecast, because we could only look at sales numbers. When customers couldn’t find something in stock, they would just leave and we wouldn’t necessarily know what they had been looking for. Now, apart from gaining insights from sales, we can gain insights from non-sales,” Matthias explains. “By learning what sizes or colours of a shirt customers are requesting, not just which ones are being sold, the purchasing department can better forecast and distribute products to ensure that customers can always find what they need.”

“We used to write new code for every new request. Now, with the configurable components of Google Cloud and managed services of Google Kubernetes Engine, we have standardized solutions that are much faster at tracking the data we need for the business to run smoothly.”

Matthias Krenzel, Head of Data Platform Services, Breuninger

Expanding the business with standardized, easy-to-use technology

In 2019, Breuninger expanded the reach of its online store from Germany and Austria to also serve customers in Switzerland. Since then, to ensure a successful expansion outside the European Union, the retailer has needed to access new data, such as daily and monthly exchange rates, and to establish new processes to ensure that its products reach customers on the other side of the border through a local delivery partner.

“These are new things we need to track,” says Matthias. “To know when our packages reach our customers, we need to track the operating system of our delivery partners. Thankfully for us, Google Cloud has a great scaffolding in place that allows us to reach and integrate new data sources easily.”

“We used to write new code for every new request. Now, with the configurable components of Google Cloud and managed services of Google Kubernetes Engine, we have standardized solutions that are much faster at tracking the data we need for the business to run smoothly,” says Matthias.

“Our real strength is serving our customers well; helping them get what they need quickly, while keeping their information safe. By enabling us to focus less on infrastructure and more on harnessing our data to understand what our customers want, Google Cloud is helping us do what we do best.”

Matthias Krenzel, Head of Data Platform Services, Breuninger

With standardized solutions and the support of Google Cloud managed services, Breuninger’s Data Platform Solutions team now has more time to better support other departments across the organization with data insights. “Nobody goes shopping at Breuninger because we run fantastic Kubernetes clusters, you know?” says Matthias with a laugh. “It’s not our core competency. Our real strength is serving our customers well; helping them get what they need quickly, while keeping their information safe. By enabling us to focus less on infrastructure, and more on harnessing our data to understand what our customers want, Google Cloud is helping us do what we do best.”

Supporting a tradition of innovation

As Breuninger continually proves itself an innovative company, it remains on the lookout for the next big thing it can do to offer more value for its customers. Right now, the answer lies in developing its data analytics capabilities. “We’re not doing big data yet, we’re doing ‘semi-medium’ data, but as more departments want in on the benefits of data insights, our data stack is growing,” says Matthias.

“I’m glad Google Cloud has something for companies like us, that are just getting started with data, as well as for those with much bigger data stacks,” he adds. “As we make our way to the top in terms of data capabilities, our partnership with Google Cloud will continue alongside that and help us to keep on innovating.”

About Breuninger

Founded in 1881, luxury department store Breuninger is one of the most successful fashion and lifestyle businesses in Germany today, offering 1,000 brands across 11 stores, including flagships in Stuttgart and Düsseldorf, as well as its online storefront. The company has 5,500 employees and provides 15 premium services such as personal shopping and a shuttle service.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: Germany