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

Retail Benchmark Reports: Data Is Our Friend

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As most of you know, RSR publishes between 8-10 benchmark reports each year on various facets of the retail industry. We cover perennials like merchandising, supply chain and the store, and will - either on- request or to get clarity about an area and the business issues driving technology spend - add “special ones” some years: think Location Analytics (commissioned), Cloud Computing (our idea!), and coming later this year, an new overarching look at AI (also our own plan).

Each partner co-authors around 2/3 of the benchmarks, but every partner has at least a hand in every one. While we all love the finished products (available to all with free registration), I also love the process that gets us there. Here’s why.

No one can deny we live in a world of clickbait. Grab some eyeballs, garner impressions and watch the clickbait go viral. So it was/is with “the Retail Apocalypse” (and its newborn cousin, ‘the death of retail’), and the now-long-in-the-tooth “Robots will eliminate 7.5 million retail jobs.” I’ve tracked down the source of every one of those clickbait stories, and I can tell you they are pretty much all nonsense. A kernel of truth gets extrapolated out into an illogical whole.

I track down the ones that don’t ring true to me, but lately, I’ve found I also have to track down the ones that do ring true. And that makes it even more exhausting.

But data is my friend. Now, there is nothing about me that enjoys statistics. Yeah, I aced the course in graduate school, but that was more a function of being able to use crib sheets for formulas than it was from some deep knowledge or passion for the topic. I love to look at things logically and directionally. That’s my passion. And that’s where our benchmarks come in.

I also love rummaging through the data behind the data to find the thread that makes a benchmark come to life. In a visual sense, it’s a bit like finding a thread and pulling on it. Sometimes it’s a short little thing that tells us very little. Sometimes, you give the thread a tug - generally when looking at the responses of we call “Retail Winners” vs. others, other times it’s the revenue split, still others by retail vertical, and discover the thread that ties all the data together.

Of course, it always comes back to business issues. My first retail IT boss and professional mentor used to talk about technology for “amusement and amazement” and how useless it was. Today, 30+ years later, we talk about ‘bright shiny object syndrome.’ We can usually expose those bright shiny objects in our benchmarks as well and dig behind them for the problems retailers are hoping to solve.

This data informs every interaction we have with both vendors and retailers. We have seen the data, parsed the data, come to conclusions, validated those conclusions in the market, and can advise on “what it means for you.”

While I may grumble about the tool we use or the volume of analysis, I can’t deny its power. And I can’t deny that I love it. I have been in the retail industry my whole life, quite literally. My partners may not go back to age 5 in their retail experience as I do, but they go back really far. We’ve seen the industry change, and we’ve also seen how some fundamentals remain the same.

This is a very long way around suggesting that you give our retail benchmarks a look if you haven’t already. Our eBooks are going to be more about the pictures (charts) without the words going forward, but the full story will always be available in the benchmark itself.

We know that others are now in the benchmark business. They might have better graphics’ abilities – we’re analysts and as a small company, we do most of our own graphics work these days – but I don’t think anyone does quite the job we do on actually presenting the facts, in context.

I thought you’d be interested in learning how much and why I love actually writing these things. I never would have suspected that Cloud Computing’s appeal in retail has almost nothing to do with flexible computing power and everything to do with speed to value. But that’s what we discovered, and writing that report was a blast. It’s like that almost every time.

Who else will tell you that retailers are missing out on basics like cleaning their stores and training their people? What does this have to do with “headless commerce” and other new technology terms? Nothing. It has to do with the retail business and its use of technology in the competitive world it faces. And that’s our specialty.

So read all the benchmarks you can regardless of who produced them, and make sure that the numbers you see are placed in a business and even a logical context. No more clickbait. Let’s get to the facts. It’s great to know the total addressable market for a product, but it’s even more important to understand why. We need to know these things. RSR’s goal is always to tell you why. And for me, that’s the fun part.

 


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Articles & Opinions July 30, 2019
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