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Blinded by Data?

Are you data-driven, or mired in data? Sometimes it's hard to tell. Oftentimes it's a bit of both. The critical question: what fraction of the data you look at each day is actionable? If you look at the same reports each day or each week, ask yourself: are there steps I could take based on what this data might reveal that would make the numbers improve going forward? If the answer is "no" then does it make sense to spend time looking at that report? As staffing gets leaner in retail we all need to figure out how to do more with less. Part of the solution is to spend less time looking at numbers we can't impact and more time taking steps that will positively effect the numbers that matter. Habits are hard to break. Here are some questions that might help separate the actionable from the non-actionable and the KPIs from the not-so-KPI:
  • Has looking at this data ever made me do something differently?
  • Are the Key Performance Indicators I study actually KPIs? Two examples of common KPIs that aren't:
    1. Site Conversion Rate: If your site conversion rate goes down, is that bad? Or, does it simply reflect either the addition of some lower converting traffic (perhaps due to an increase in competitive search traffic) or decrease in higher quality traffic (like the end of a catalog mailing cycle). Much time can be wasted chasing explanations to these changes that don't result in any meaningful action.
    2. Average Order Size: If the AOV drops does that mean you're selling fewer big ticket items, or more low ticket items? A decrease can be good or bad, and chasing the source of fluctuations is time consuming.
    We'd suggest that if changing a metric in one direction can be either good or bad, then that metric isn't really an indicator of anything. Instead, go either to the next level higher (Site Sales), or the next level lower (AOV by category or CR of top search keywords) to find the numbers that are less ambiguous.
  • Do I look at this report because it's cool, or because it's useful? I remember long ago looking at some website analytics reports (heat maps, next page/ previous page, etc) thinking: "Wow, that's cool, but what would one DO with this info?"
  • How much time should we spend benchmarking? Being consumed by what competitors are up to makes sense only to the extent that you can react to it intelligently. If their paid search ads are higher on the page than yours you can be pretty well assured that they're generating more traffic. But, you don't know whether they're overspending for that traffic. It might be wise to see if perhaps their prices are lower, or their selection is more comprehensive -- some reason to believe they generate more sales per click and hence can afford to spend more per click. That knowledge could generate action on the part of merchandising. Absent that, since you can't know what they're spending, why pay attention to where they are?
  • How many meetings do you attend that do not produce changes in direction? Any way to eliminate those meetings?
Data should be used to take positive action. If we think about the dashboard metaphor: dashboards provide data that helps you drive, but if you stare at the dashboard you'll wreck. Right now, its in all of our interests to avoid wrecks! George
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