By taking a hard look at how they apply data, executives can lead retailers through the pandemic while supporting employees, customers and operations.


Gary Sankary, retail executive at Esri

It’s likely safe to say that every executive in the world is thinking about the impact of COVID-19—on their families, employees and customers. Many are trying to balance strategy with daily uncertainty. While copious information circulates about the pandemic and the market’s response, it has never been more important to prioritize business objectives based on data.

Fortunately, useful data and trusted applications for using that data are readily available. Location intelligence technology helps leaders visualize and analyze business data within the critical context of place. Through smart maps, apps and dashboards, companies are already applying location intelligence to everything from supply chain visibility to retail site selection.

Most recently, these tools are being used to track how COVID-19 is affecting communities around the world and to manage operations and mitigate risk during this crisis. However, with location intelligence at our disposal, we must also consider how we are using it. We must put these capabilities to their best purpose and value to support employees as well as customers. Three big questions have surfaced to help businesses prioritize objectives right now:

1. How can I support my team during the pandemic?  

During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, merchants must partner with local, state, as well as federal government agencies. The well-being of people has to be a top priority. Many businesses are already giving their teams the resources to stay healthy or get the care they need. Another way retail leaders can support their teams is by providing data about the locations and capacity of care facilities. Maps can identify information such as where clinics are offering medical aid, current urgent care wait times, hours for grocery stores and pharmacies and so on. Some governments are already producing maps and apps to help communities find these resources. Businesses can use the same technologies to connect employees with vital data.


2. How are my customers affected?

As the virus moves through communities, it makes a profound impact on daily activities. Regular routines are changing week to week by necessity as shelter in place orders are mandated and updated. Customers are altering buying patterns, including what products and services they need to get their families through this crisis. For businesses, the faster we understand these changing behavioral patterns, the better we will be able to anticipate our customers’ experiences and needs. This will ensure we provide the right goods and services during the upcoming months. By correlating local data with confirmed cases and vulnerable population information, we see patterns emerge.

Retailers can use this insight to plan local responses. We can use maps to understand age and social vulnerability in the context of the outbreak. By looking at a map of confirmed and active cases, deaths and recoveries, public health organizations can see where a response is most needed. For example, Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering published a coronavirus dashboard to track and fight the spread of COVID-19. Tools like this allow us to monitor the changing situation visually in near real-time.

3. How is the pandemic affecting my operations?

Once companies understand the virus’ impact on employees and customers, they must then focus on how it impacts operations. The responsibility to keep the business intact and viable has never been more acute. This is especially true now that many people are relying on companies for home delivery of essential goods, including food, toiletries and medicine. Retailers have adopted austerity in supply chain measures as they face the increasingly limited consumption patterns of a nation in lockdown. However, when we get through this, I believe there will be a rebound of unprecedented demand for many products and services.

We might see retailers survive this only to have more issues when restrictions lift as they strive to keep up with a sudden rise in demand. There are many resources to help gather data from field operations in real-time—data such as inventory levels, supply chain operations, and store openings and closings. In particular, businesses can use maps to understand workforce capacity and facility operational status. Dashboards can help leaders determine whether business locations or teams can continue normal operations, then take appropriate action.


Reliable information in the context of location is vital for business leaders who must quickly make data-driven decisions. By taking a hard look at how their organizations are applying data and technology, executives can lead their businesses through a global crisis while supporting employees, customers and operations.

ESRI is a supplier of geographic information system software, web geographic information systems and geodatabase management applications.