The trend to be more data driven is hot. More evidence is piling up claiming a data driven approach makes for a more successful business. But this approach comes with a minor flaw: many merchandisers struggle to use the data they've collected effectively. What's more, ingraining a data driven culture across the entire organization proves even more of a challenge.
Hanna Bang, Senior Site Merchandising Manager at The Walt Disney Company, joined us at our user conference, Bloomreach Connect, and shared her experience on making the most out of the data available.
Site merchandisers struggle to see the difference between data and behavior.
- Hanna Bang, Senior Site Merchandising Manager at The Walt Disney Company
She opened with a common issue she'd noticed in the merchandising world: "Site merchandisers struggle to see the difference between data and behavior." Before, the data her team were analyzing were far too granular and specific. In order to grasp the big wins, they needed to look at the overall picture to really make a difference and take advantage of the opportunities that came their way.
Not Every Piece of Data Is Useful
The real life example she shared started with site search data. In January, Hanna's team noticed the number one search term was 'Moana'. Taking this information, the team geared up for a full-blown campaign, "We were like great! We need to start messaging, we need to develop a content strategy around Moana, let's get more product!" remembers Hanna.
This enthusiasm was, unfortunately, premature. A closer look at the data told a different story: "When you look at the full rolling history, you begin to see that in January ‘Moana’ was actually downtrending - it's been on its down trend for three months and it hit its peak in October" divulges Hanna. That means they'd missed at least three months of selling and, "if you look beyond that, it probably means people started to look for Moana two or three months before the peak, and the search terms started to uptick."
A Cue to Start Thinking Bigger
Moana was, and still is, hugely popular and so it was always going to be high-ranking in the search terms. Understanding the relationship between trends and wider data signified the beginning of a change in approach. Hanna looks back and recalls, "It was when my team started to recognize, 'I need to look at the full picture and tie the whole thing together because that really gives me a picture of the customer's behavior.'"
It's not until you realize that data is more or less an aggregation of different individual data points, with a thread that ties them together to be able to tell a story, you start being able to really make impactful business decisions.
From then on, the merchandising team at shopDisney was inspired to look at the overall behavior of their visitors and customers, rather than the individual data points. "For me, traffic numbers are data, product views are data, search volume is data. But it's not until you realize that data is more or less an aggregation of different individual data points, with a thread that ties them together to be able to tell a story, you start being able to really make impactful business decisions and strategy shifts in terms of timing, messaging tactics and content. That's when we started to see the big wins." explains Hanna.
Joining the dots to fully understand trends meant the team could unlock new ways of merchandising products with more accurate timelines.
Changing a Team's Mindset Is Tricky
Breaking out of the merchandising mold to explore the realms of data available wasn't an attitude that could be pivoted to at the drop of a hat. Hanna advised the audience to start with small changes and, as the team starts to recognize the effect of these changes, they're encouraged to link data point and look more and more at the bigger picture.
It was when they started to move away from the norm and see the impact that "there was that aha! moment, which started the notion of layering the different data points with other information," shares Hanna.
There's always that fear of failure that ends up becoming a blocker.
In the spirit of trying new things, the team also had to learn how to celebrate failure. This was essential according to Hanna and instilled the feeling within the team that, "If we get it wrong, we get it wrong, no big deal, there are no consequences - let's just fail fast and move forward. That culture needed to be bred in order for them to feel comfortable to make any sort of mistake. There's always that fear of failure that ends up becoming a blocker."
Branching out Further
Those two data points might individually tell a strong story but together they tell an even better one.
As the team's confidence grew and they became more comfortable with trying out new approaches, they started to layer data points from farther afield.
"We started to apply it to our email tactics. Looking at email data versus click and traffic data across categories. Those two data points might individually tell a strong story but together they tell an even better one," says Hanna.
Sometimes we get stuck in our little bubble. I'll push my team to start thinking outside of the company's own trends and find out what the rest of the world is doing.
They also began to compare their internal trends with data from the external world and piece together a story. Hanna explains, "Sometimes we get stuck in our little bubble. I'll push my team to start thinking outside of the company's own trends and find out what the rest of the world is doing."
Applying this tactic to her own case, she remarks, "If Moana started to uptick in search volume in August, does that trend actually align with what we're seeing in Google Trends. Is it the same or is there even more missed opportunity there?"
Positioned for Impact
It's no longer enough nor useful to look at individual data points to justify a change in merchandising. The key to successful eCommerce is the story formed out of the data. Hanna encourages merchandisers to "truly use the story to make big business impacts." With this approach, businesses can build long term, sustainable plans based on the behavior of the people engaging with their brand, rather than a high volume of clicks.