Our Deep Dive into $22 Trillion Retail Sales Industry

MSBA Practicum Project Experience for Engage3

One of key advantages and opportunity in the UC Davis Master of Science in Business Analytics is collaborating in a small team on a 12-month practicum project for a client company. During our second week in the program, we ranked our favorite of seven project descriptions. One particular project stood out: to help revolutionize the $22 trillion retail sales industry.

The client, Engage3, helps retailers and brands improve their pricing performance and compete more profitably through data science and analytics. The student team would work with Engage3 data scientists to analyze and benchmark the economic value of machine learning models for retail pricing. This project topped my list, and I was fortunate to join five very talented and enthusiastic peers on the project.

Our team and client leads (from left to right): Zhenyu Fan, Abhinav Chatterji, Marielle Fong (Head of Marketing, Engage3), Sahar Pirmoradian (Data Scientist, Engage3), April Chen, Beverly Huang, Heidi Xiong and Xing Chen.

Our team started with weekly meetings and achievable goals. Over the next few weeks, the team got a handle on the breadth of the retail industry. Soon we were knee deep into Python codes simulating market scenarios at the click of a button.

We were so engrossed in the world of coding and emulations that time flew by. We realized the first deliverable for our project was around the corner. Up until then, the online client meetings went smooth, but the time constraint now demanded more interactions with Engage3, which too sensed the urgency. They invited us to their headquarters in Davis near the UC Davis campus.

Four-Day Sprint Stretches Team

In Davis, we went on a four-day, rigorous sprint. On our first day at Engage3 we met with energetic and focused employees. While CXOs in other firms could be mystical beings whose name you would have heard but never seen, Engage3 has a humble culture. CEO Ken Ouimet, COO Edris Bemanian and many other C-suite executives prefer sharing the same office space with other employees. The team was welcoming and we quickly felt a part of the organization.

After getting a taste of Engage3’s impressive work culture, we went to work. Sahar Pirmoradian, the firm’s lead data scientist, laid down a comprehensive plan for the next four days. The list of tasks was daunting. We had to get to work to stick to our deadline.

For the next four days, worked in close quarters with Sahar. We were relocated to a new office space that was still under renovation. All it offered was an empty table and few chairs. Before I figure out where I would set up with my laptop, Sahar rolled up her sleeves and moved chairs and tables across the room. Welcome to “startup culture.” No one considered any task too petty. The focus was on getting the job done.

We faced the most difficult part of the schedule: fixing thousands of line of complicated codes to make everything work together. Sahar led our platoon. We divided and conquered the tasks.

The first day turned out to be stressful, tasks that seemed easy came out as one of the most difficult ones, chunks of code that were sure to run, broke down whimsically. The moral of the team was sinking, but we realized the importance of our camaraderie. A second opinion, a support and quick help made things go seemingly easier. Each time I stumbled upon something that almost seemed impossible, all I had to do was nudge the person next to me and voila, it was fixed. When our collective intelligence could not solve a problem, Sahar jumped in to save the day and left us flabbergasted.

After nine hours, we only achieved half of our ambitious plans for the first day. The day had taken its toll. To keep our spirits up we explored the city of Davis and the neighboring town of Sacramento. Throughout the evening we chatted about what we could fix for the next three days.

The next two days were smoother. We stretched beyond our working hours in high spirits with Sahar right there with us.

On the fourth and final morning, we met Sahar who was both happy and rushed. She shared that our work was completely in sync with what we were trying to achieve, and our visit was a success. We had to prepare for our presentation to the Engage3 team later that day. We buckled up and practiced.

We Felt Transformed into Consultants

Data science experts and C-suites gathered in the room. Our team presented with a matching level of confidence and energy. As we clicked to the “thank you” slide, the Engage3 leaders burst into applause. At that moment, we realized we finally made it. The grueling four days of work had paid off.

We left Davis with a feeling of satisfaction and contentment. Six students with diverse backgrounds and knowledge had a mission. When we left, we were no just students. We felt transformed into consultants or employees capable of delivering on deadline, under pressure. We were collaborative team players, experts of our field, who are now ready to tackle real-world problems through the periscope of data.

Ready for Upcoming Challenges

What felt like a roller coaster ride to the team was just the first checkpoint of a year-long engagement. Our team will participate in ongoing work and testing scenarios with Engage3 as the project pans out into the spring and summer quarters. We are now more confident and more ready to achieve the ultimate goals of the project.