Make Experience Count, Because Results Matter More Than Ever
By Anne-Marie Roerink / June 2017Insights
As a research professional, data was the center of my universe long before big data became the talk of the town in recent years. As such, today’s topic may be surprising coming from a self-proclaimed numbers geek. And that is the absolute need to apply a healthy dose of common sense on top of the all the wonderful insights and benchmarks data can provide. No matter how solid or big your research sample, loyalty program or even POS data, we should always pause to make sure any and all conclusions pass the smell test. While certainly experience (but we’ve always done…) can stand in the way of trying something new based on trends or research insights, other times, it’s experience that can help prevent serious mistakes due to data flaws. Let me provide an example.
My husband manages a large laboratory and about a year ago the hospital was bought up by a regional chain. Software was updated and existing systems were replaced to ensure all hospitals used the same technology and could be uniformly managed. After a few months, he was told his staff’s productivity numbers were far below par. A few more months went by and he was told to lay off 28 full-time positions. All the while, he argued that he managed laboratories in the Army for 20 years and knows from experience when people are busy or underemployed. Regular stop ins during all three shifts simply had him scratching his head and digging for an answer as no one was standing around twiddling their thumbs. With data compartmentalized across numerous departments (sounds familiar?) it took weeks to get the inputs for the head count, number of tests, kinds of tests, etc. While trying to puzzle together the story, staff reduction plans were well underway. But once the full picture emerged, the answer was simple. His hospital was the only one in a system of 15 with blood donor center operations — prompting the need for a unique set of tests that none of the other hospitals run. During the IT overhaul to one uniform system, none of these tests were coded as they didn’t exist in the chain-wide system. As such, none were taken into consideration in the HQ productivity calculations. End result: the lab could hire two more full-time people instead of laying off 28.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a firm believer that facts are friendly. But once more I was reminded about the utmost importance of data integrity and research methodology. The more we rely on data, the bigger the need to check and double check we’re looking at the right data in the right way. In our retailing world, hardly any one store is an apple to apple comparison to another, even when built to the same specs. Prior year sales results could have been impacted by a weather or other event, by a missed delivery or a competitor opening a store a mile up the road. Consumer research is easily affected by the type of people you ask, the time of year, the day of the week or how you ask the question. Even loyalty data may tell more than one story.
Realistically, the competitive landscape regardless of industry just keeps getting more complex. Additionally, the U.S. population is more diverse than ever before. As retailers, we cater to five generations in the marketplace. Each of these represents very different tastes, likes, cooking skill sets, cultural influences, etc. Products that fly off the shelf in one outlet of a chain, gather dust on the shelf in another. For instance, some generations love organic and value-added products. Others stick to conventional and scratch cooking. Income disparity, ethnic diversity, urbanization, not to mention mega trends such as locally-sourced, health and wellness and convenience are creating a “one size fits no one” world. So, data analytics are simply a must to thrive in today’s and tomorrow’s world to get our offering as close to the bull’s eye as possible for each store. But let’s make sure we realize just about every store has its own version of a blood donor center and we never forget about the power of experience to make the results matter most.
Anne-Marie specializes in providing customized research and marketing strategies with a specialty in food retailing for clients such as the Food Marketing Institute, National Grocers Association, National Confectioners Association, Retail Industry Leaders Association and others. Through countless studies, Anne-Marie has developed an excellent perspective on the changing nature of the shopper and the food retailing business today and the challenge of success tomorrow. Anne-Marie offers a diverse and in-depth view on retailing financials, operations and shopper behavior, and how/why these issues are important to various organizations. Prior to founding 210 Analytics, Anne-Marie was the Head of Research for the Food Marketing Institute.