Chief Executive's Blog: Using Data Effectively

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about data – how we use and abuse it and how businesses in our sector should deal with it.  A few things have caused me to mull on this topic.

Firstly, in the wake of the general election various commentators have attacked the pollsters for failing to predict the result.  My view is that the pollsters provide one data source – it’s for the commentators to interpret this and turn it into knowledge or a forecast.  It there was a failure in the pre-election media debate, the pollsters are only responsible for a small part of it.

Secondly, ACS is starting to pull together the 2015 Local Shop Report.  It’s being launched on 9 September in Manchester, by the way. This is our key source of data for explaining to government and parliament the value of local shops, and analysing the impact of regulation on the sector.  How do we use data most effectively, and how do we turn numbers into a compelling story?  It’s by relating data on our sector to our role in providing investment, jobs and social value that we make our research impossible for the Government to ignore, and it’s by finding out new information on our sector that we make it indispensable to the industry.

Thirdly, I was at the Landmark Wholesale conference this weekend, and heard a wonderful presentation from Sir Clive Woodward.  He really, really, loves data on sport, requiring his teams to all have their own laptops, conducting their own data analysis and making tactical decisions based on it.  As more of a cricket than rugby man, I’m also conscious of the criticism the England cricket team have received for their perceived over-reliance on data.  How do we learn from quantitative information about what we do, without inhibiting the magic dust that comes from a raw talent like Ben Stokes or, in the context of retailing, that brilliant member of staff who drives customer loyalty through their personality?

Fourthly, a couple of weeks ago I was lucky to attend the launch of the 2015 CTP – a shopper research programme run by the consultancy him!.  This gives us a great benchmark of what customers think about our businesses, but it takes common sense, a deep understanding of the business and the ability to think ahead, rather than look back at what shoppers said last month or last year, to really make use of this data.  There is a danger that the generally positive feedback from customers will lull us into ignoring the huge threats and opportunities facing our sector.

I could go on at quite boring length about each of the examples above, but I’ll leave it with this.  A friend of mine is a doctor, and he says that it was only a number of years into his career that he understood the most important part of his job: learning when to ignore the test results.  I don’t think our industry uses data enough, but as we rush to remedy this, we shouldn’t go too far and become governed by it, either.

This entry was posted by Chris on Tue, 26/05/2015 - 14:51