CRI Retail Learning Labs Update


Established in the fall of 2013, the Center for Retail Innovation (CRI) Retail Learning Labs were first implemented in ten Lowes Foods grocery stores scattered across North Carolina. The labs capture real-time data that allows students and faculty to study shopper behavior in a retail environment in a way that previously was elusive.

“In the first 18 months, we principally used the Retail Learning Labs for commercial research,” said Roger Beahm, (full) professor of the practice and WestRock executive director of the Wake Forest University School of Business CRI. “But now that we’ve seen what it can do, we’re expanding its reach and usefulness within the classroom.”

“The labs leverage transaction logs, geolocation, loyalty programs, and other data. This helps our students, faculty, and corporate partners see the full retail picture. If you want to make a real business decision, you need to understand the data holistically. We are plugged into the data in ways other programs aren’t. Others may get data in a flat file to analyze. They don’t have the ability to go into the system an organization uses, a real operating system, to access the data.”

“Our Retail Learning Labs offer living, not static, data sets,” said Haresh Gurnani, Benson-Pruitt professor of business and executive director of the CRI. The labs are a key differentiator for the School, especially for the new MS in Business Analytics program.

“Many existing data sets are a snapshot of one specific moment in time,” said Gurnani. “With our live data sets from the Retail Learning Labs, you can take a snapshot along a continuum. For example, a product’s sales for one week or a product’s sales over an entire year. Having data over a period of time allows us to do longitudinal studies. Seeing data change over time is critical to making informed business decisions.”

Our Retail Learning Labs will help students see a complete view. Students will have the opportunity to analyze the data, extract insights, communicate the results, and provide information our partners can use to make data-driven decisions. The labs also offer unique flexibility, allowing researchers to make adjustments to a study, and watch for real-time impact the same day.

“The research we are doing in our Retail Learning Labs advances knowledge for the industry. It advances the education of our students, and expands the research opportunities for our faculty. The ability to use real data and real business problems in the classroom is a key aspect of the School’s evolving educational model.”