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Wal-Mart Lifts Decade-Long Ban on Data Sharing

Move Gives Nielsen, SymphonyIRI, Others Access to Scanner Information for Walmart and Sam's Club Chains

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Wal-Mart Stores is lifting the lid on its U.S. sales data vault more than a decade after restricting access for most outside parties, allowing data syndicator Nielsen Co. and other research firms to receive and analyze scanner data both from its flagship Walmart chain and Sam's Club stores.

The move will eliminate a gaping black hole in consumer packaged-goods sales data that research firms and marketers have had to work around for years using consumer panel data and advanced modeling.

It also has the potential to make the marketing-mix modeling CPG and other marketers use as the basis for measuring marketing ROI considerably more accurate.

Nielsen will begin providing clients access to Walmart and Sam's data in "a few months," said Nielsen spokeswoman Jennifer Frighetto. "We're raring to go," she said, "And starting to work with [Wal-Mart] and train them and we will be providing new views of our U.S. industry numbers. It's a big impact."

The deal covers "census" data, or data from all U.S. Walmart stores, Neighborhood Markets and Sam's Clubs, and will include historical data, Ms. Frighetto said, though she didn't immediately have information on how far back it will go.

"Walmart will be sharing their data with other providers as well," Ms. Frighetto said. "What's different here is that Nielsen is the primary provider. So they'll be using our data and tools. We'll be training Walmart on using this data that they haven't been using for so long."

SymphonyIRI is in the process of finalizing an agreement with Wal-Mart that will provide the same level of access to the retailer's scanner data, said John McIndoe, senior VP-marketing. At the same time, he said SymphonyIRI has been named Wal-Mart's preferred supplier of shopper and consumer insights, and will be the "platform of choice" to provide Walmart customer insights.

Wal-Mart's policy change is potentially a win for other research firms, too, such as NPD Group, which also had access to Walmart scanner data prior to the ban more than a decade ago. An NPD spokeswoman couldn't immediately be reached for comment. A Walmart spokeswoman was in a meeting and also couldn't immediately provide comment on the reason for ending the ban on industry data-sharing.

The executive behind the change apparently is Cindy Davis, the former Sam's Club chief marketer who earlier this year became exec VP of Wal-Mart global consumer insights, spanning all of the retailer's U.S. and global divisions.

In a statement provided by Nielsen, Ms. Davis said, "This expanded relationship with Nielsen will provide Walmart and Sam's Club with deeper insights into customer purchasing -- and unmet needs -- both nationally and in key local markets." Sharing information, she said, will also help Walmart and Sam's identify category growth opportunities sooner and develop more "impactful" programs.

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