The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

A Little Bit About Why We’re Different

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Long ago in the way back machine RSR wrote a “how-to piece” called How To Give The Best Briefings Ever. It’s gotten a lot of traction over the years, and we can always tell when someone we’ve never spoken to before has read it in advance (usually by just how interactive the conversation begins. Calls where a vendor just kills us with death-by-powerpoint for 59 minutes are a pretty clear indicator that article was never read, and quite frankly – don’t really help either party as much as they could).

A few things have changed since we published that piece, however. We’re meeting a lot more companies in the virtual world for the first time ever, and that means a lot of new vendors are asking for a briefing with us – without really knowing why. They know they want to brief analyst firms (part of their job), but they think we’re just like every other firm out there.

We’re not.

And so it bears calling out what we think we do a little differently. It’s a bit long, but if you take the time to read it here, it will save us a few minutes having to explain “what we do and why we’re different” once we get on the phone!

The RSR partners started this company nearly 16 years ago because we wanted to offer the type of analysis we wish existed back when we were retailers. Even today, when most people think of an analyst firm, they think of a company that constantly surveils the technology landscape, assesses each player’s strengths and weaknesses, and then compares the lot in some sort of quick-visualization tool (a wave, a quadrant, etc)  to all the competing technologists in a particular segment.

That’s not what we do. At all.

So what makes us different?

  1. We don’t do competitive intelligence (i.e. we don’t compare one solution to another). Ever. The world does not need another Forrester or Gartner. Those companies do a fine job at what they do, and most people in the industry are familiar with how their models work
  2. We offer market intelligence. We survey retailers to find out what they are thinking on any number of topics, and then filter those results through our own lens of experience to put forward products and service that help everyone – retailers AND technologists alike – to learn what the best performing retailers are doing, what they are doing differently, and how everyone can learn from their example.

To achieve this, there are essentially two sides to our business: the research side, and what we do with the outcome of that research.

The Research Side

Every year, the partners at RSR decide 10-12 topics that we think are worth researching. Some we touch on nearly every year (the state of the store, the supply chain, etc), and we love to look how these issues evolve from one year to the next (this year we’ll be conducting our 16th annual benchmark report on Merchandising, for example, and the year-over-year progression in that artform has been nothing short of staggering. Other topics come and go due to a pace of change that doesn’t warrant investigation every year (the Internet of Things is a great example of this – we just released our 2022 report, and hadn’t looked at that topic since 2019). Others emerge as “right now” things that we think are worthy of knowing more about. We intentionally leave TBD slots in the research calendar to accommodate for these topics, and often times they are the result of conversations we have with the tech community. Some of our best work here comes from conversations with have with YOU, so if you ever have an idea for a topic you think might be interesting to know more about, please don’t be shy!

Each project takes roughly 3 months from start to finish. The first part is crafting the survey questions. As you might imagine, this is absolutely vital to get right, because one cannot get insightful data unless the survey is really, really well crafted. Full disclosure: we think we do this better than anyone else in the business, and it’s a lot more difficult than you might think. We also, however, remain humble during the process, and invite any tech vendors that are close to the space in question to weigh in on our draft survey once it’s nearly ready for prime time. Again – there are things we know we don’t know, and some of the best data we often get comes from a question we never even would have thought to ask.

We then put the survey into the field, and typically aim for 80-100 qualified retailers to respond. We fine tune these respondents based on the specific project’s needs and can do this by geography (to compare European retailers’ responses to those in the US, for example), by title (to compare how IT views a challenge compared to LOB executives), by annual revenue, by product sold – the list goes on and on.

Once a quorum has been reached, the partners then begin the analysis process. As you might imagine, this is the most time-consuming part of the process, and again, an area where we think our expertise in the industry makes all the difference. Because we eat, sleep and breathe retail and only retail, we agonize over what the data wants to show us. The story it tells. Sometimes that story is glaringly apparent. Sometimes it takes a significant amount of digging to find. But no matter the project, it’s our intimacy with the topic at hand and our hard-won experience that enables us to find the thread. We find this thread every time, and have been doing so since 2007. The data always has a story to tell. And once it’s uncovered itself, that’s when the writing process begins.

Once the report is written, we give our sponsors some time to take in the findings before publication. Some sponsors will ask for a personalized data review at this time – others just want to read what we’ve found. Like everything else we do, we custom-tailor this process it to what works best for the client. There is no one size fits all in anything RSR does, and we pride ourselves on being flexible in order

Roughly 90 days after the first meetings to hash out a survey, a finalized RSR Benchmark Report is released into the market. We publish every report we write for free – to everyone – so that the findings can help any and all who wish to benefit from what we’ve found. This means that on our website, anyone, at any time, can access more than 15 years worth of benchmark reports. The average is 30 pages long, and has roughly 20 charts within. At a dozen reports a year, that adds up to a pretty sizable library. We invite everyone to check out our body of work here.

The What-We-Do-With-The-Findings Side

The data from our benchmark reports enables every other product and service RSR offers. There are typical things you might expect like speaking gigs to share our findings, infographics to make them more digestible, eBooks for those who want the key takeaways without all the text, video findings for those looking for “digital snackables”, webinars, panel moderation, sales enablement training – the list goes on. None of this is particularly unique in the sense that it is wildly different from what other analyst firms might do, but all of it is unique in that it leverages the combination of what our years of experience have taught us with what the latest data informs.

The much more interesting thing that comes out of the data is our ability to offer advisory services.

We advise retailers trying to navigate their roadmap for future products or organizational flow. We help startup tech vendors find their voice, based on what retailers tell us they need in our research. We help some of the biggest technologists in the world ensure that their marketing materials are speaking the language of retail (often times, a company can be just a little too close to its own solutions, and while the product may be absolutely stellar, the marketing materials run the risk of falling flat by speaking in lingo that retailers tell us doesn’t resonate). Sometimes, we just help people figure out what to promote at a booth that they are planning for an upcoming trade show. These services can be delivered in any number of ways (virtually, in person, in a half-day session or in a full year engagement). But what we don’t do is run a clock. If you engage with RSR, there is no “credit” system. We make ourselves available to solve your problem, and we are not consultants. Consultants look to embed themselves in your organization and extend the engagement as long as possible. We are advisors: our mission is to get in, get up to speed faster than anyone could expect, help you solve your problem, and get out as efficiently as possible. It’s the opposite of consulting, and an important distinction.

But regardless of the format (advisory day, ½ day strategy session, monthly calls or quarterly briefings), the net of all of this work is this: we help people make all of their mistakes in private.

We are an extra set of eyes, and for what it’s worth, eyes that have been sharpened by decades in the industry and armed with up-to-the-minute data from what retailers tell us they desperately need – right now. It’s a formula that works pretty well, and we love what we do.

The highest compliment we can ever receive is when one of clients re-engages with us for a 2nd (or 3rd, or 15th) project, and many of the people we’ve worked with throughout the years make introducing RSR to their team one of the first things they do when they leave one company and join another. Nothing could make us prouder.

So there you have it – what we think makes us different. And if it sounds like a concept that rings true, we can now spend even more time on our next call with you to get right into your company’s particular challenges, and therefore get to the part where we offer some helpful ideas even faster!

Newsletter Articles May 3, 2022
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