3M Co. opened a new Consumer Data Science and Merchandising Lab at its Maplewood headquarters Tuesday to help retailers and 3M boost product sales, find efficiencies in the factory-to-delivery process and even test if the type on labels is the right size.
3M's Consumer Business Group spent two years developing the multimillion-dollar initiative and the better part of last year building out the large and sleek space that now sits inside Building 230, across from 3M's four-year-old Design Lab.
The new consumer-data lab includes a data science and analytics office, a visualization lab where interactive presentations will be conducted with customers and an ever-changing retail lab.
The latter is really a massive mock-up store. On Tuesday it showcased aisles and aisles of 3M products, but the set can be changed in an instant, depending on what the 3M customer would like to see, officials said.
The new 24,592-square-foot lab is run by dozens of 3M computer scientists, statisticians, mathematicians and other employees charged with improving 3M's $4.8 billion consumer business.
"This lab is all about our customers and consumers who are at the very core of everything we do," said Joaquin Delgado, executive vice president of 3M's Consumer Business Group. "We are applying artificial intelligence and machine learning in the retail landscape to create a better customer and consumer experience."
Analyzing the data will help 3M develop new algorithms that can improve how 3M goes to market.
3M's effort is the latest among many U.S. companies to deeply dive into consumer data to bolster sales, service, delivery times and efficiencies. Land O'Lakes, the Mall of America and Amazon are among companies relying on consumer trends and data science to stoke sales.
3M's new data lab is the extension of analytics work done behind the scenes for years, officials said. The company expects it to be used by five to 10 customers a month on various projects. 3M managers would not disclose which customers but said the retailers include some of the country's largest brick-and-mortar and online retailers.
If the venture is successful, the new lab's use of retail data should help 3M and customers get the right products and the right packaging in the right locations or enhance their presence on an online shopping site, Delgado said.
3M will work with its retail partners to secure and analyze store or online shopping data.
From there, 3M's databases are expected to analyze the key information, learn how certain products sell in different geographies and discover what is the most important item needed on each packaging label. Getting labels and print sizes correct should help shoppers quickly find the product they are seeking, regardless of if it's a 3M Filtrete air filter, sandpaper, Scotch paint tape, Command wall stickers, Nexcare bandages or Post-it notes.
"When it comes to air filters, we know the most important thing shoppers look for [on the label] is the size of the filter. If we make that [apparent on the packaging], we save that shopper the three seconds" they are generally willing to devote to a product search, said Keith Albright, 3M's global shopper leader.
The lab's analytics should also help 3M and its customers sell products faster and ensure that products stay fully stocked. With that, the data becomes very useful and prevents customers from walking out of a store without making a purchase, Delgado said.
3M's consumer data lab is just the latest investment the $33 billion manufacturer has made to shore up relationships with customers and solve problems.
In 2015, 3M opened its three-story design center in Maplewood and followed a year later with its new $150 million research-and-development lab on the same headquarters campus.
In the last decade, 3M created global research centers in China, India and Korea and opened global service centers in Costa Rica, Poland and the Philippines. It also opened new 3M supply centers in Singapore, Switzerland and Panama.
3M has long prided itself on its ability to work on proprietary projects with large commercial customers. The latest effort announced this week is focused on its consumer business, one of five units that make up the multinational company.