Have you ever had that feeling that the answer to one of your most persistent challenges is right there in front of you — somewhere? It’s like that overstuffed closet of summer stuff. The Wiffle Ball set is in there. It’s got to be. But there is so much clutter you just can’t get past the tents, sleeping bags, bocci ball set and slip-and-slide to get your hands on it. That’s a modern site merchandiser’s world. So much data. So little time. “There actually is an issue of having too much data and being overloaded with it,” says Caitlin Molinari , a retail consultant who has worked in merchandising and marketing at a number of retailers. “You’re so deep in the data, that you’re not able to make adjustments and implement any improvements.” Molinari’s perspective is reflected in a commissioned study by Forrester Consulting conducted on behalf of BloomReach. Forrester found that only 37 percent of merchandisers strongly agreed with the notion that they had access to the customer insights data that they needed to do their jobs well. In this post, part three of a four-part series on the future of site merchandising, we look at the frustration that some merchandisers experience in knowing the right data exists, but being unable to access it. And we’ll talk to some of those who have broken through and found quick access to the insights they need. When asked whether their companies had adequately implemented a range of nine tools to analyze key customer behavior and their organization’s performance, in no case did more than 44 percent of merchandisers strongly agree that their tools were up to the task. No question, data can be a big help, says Lin Zhao, Wayfair’s general manager of service. The online home furnishings and decor seller recently turned to a new merchandising tool that is easing the frustration of knowing the data is there, but not knowing how to get it in a manageable form. Still, Zhao remembers the feeling. “We always try to get data,” he said, “but one of the negatives is that there is so much out there, and there tends to be a lot of noise, and it’s harder to tease out those insights from the data.” (Full disclosure: Wayfair is a BloomReach Compass Merchandising customer.) Molinari, who now runs Caitlin Molinari Marketing , says she’s seen the negative effects of data overload, both in her practice and during her retail career. “It’s almost like, ‘Well, where do we pull from and how do we de-compartmentalize what it’s telling us?’” she says. “And by then, it’s too late.” Her advice is to figure out just what data leads to the most important insights and what tools can help you get at that data — now. “You kind of find that happy medium, where you have one or two true norths of data that you can collect and make real-time decisions with — within hours of what you find,” she says. “Or else, that opportunity within those future journeys are missed.” Not being able to sift through a sea of data quickly is not just frustrating for those helping to run a retail operation. It’s frustrating for customers as well. Without a clear path to the right data, merchants are missing opportunities to deeply understand their customers’ intent. See the entire site merchandising series
Without knowing what an individual customer is after, retailers can’t offer relevant product assortments that suit the tastes of each and every shopper across different channels. The sad result can be a customer who just isn’t that into you anymore. Wayfair is tackling a big part of that problem with its new merchandising approach. The retailer’s merchandisers are now able in real-time to understand customers’ intent and gain an understanding of how they go about their online shopping excursions. They can see what customers are searching for and how they are moving through the site in an effort to find exactly what they want. “Which,” says Taylor Genrich , a site merchandising associate at Wayfair, “is data that we would have had to dig through reports and put in urls” before changing tools. And the truth is, when data is buried in different reports, possibly residing with different teams, the right people don’t always see the right data. That light bulb went on with Dalin Brinkman , senior manager for site optimization and mobile for Lamps Plus, when the retailer adopted a merchandising tool that revealed instant insights. The tool “actually provided us this whole new world of data that we had never even thought to look at,” Brinkman says. “Now, instead of having to guess, we have evidence to back up our ideas in ways we can understand.” (Full disclosure: Lamps Plus is a BloomReach Compass Merchandising customer.) The right tools and the right data can also help merchandisers demonstrate their value to their organization. “I was looking for the team to justify the decisions they were making,” says Alex Goldman, Wayfair’s vice president of site merchandising. “The intent was there, but the arguments weren’t supported with enough data.” That’s no longer the case, which points to a cure for another frustration that Forrester uncovered in its survey of merchandisers. Digital merchandisers know that what they do is important. And, in fact, Forrester found that more than half of the merchandisers surveyed believe they are responsible for a series of nine key indicators of their companies’ success — everything from building brand awareness to aligning brand awareness with customer experience. But the survey indicates that their efforts are not deeply appreciated by a significant portion of their colleagues in marketing. Forrester found that only 36 percent of marketers strongly believed that merchandisers’ expertise should be incorporated with the marketers’ understanding of customers to improve sales. More than 80 percent of merchandisers believed their knowledge should be combined with marketers’ expertise — and 50 percent told Forrester they strongly believed that should be the case. Providing merchandisers with quick access to the right data appears to have the potential to change minds in the marketing department. Phil Stocker, Wayfair’s senior manager of site merchandising, says changing tools has put merchandisers in the position of representing the voice of the customer. He says he sees a day when other parts of the company, from those responsible for attracting new customers to those responsible for hanging onto them, will turn to merchandisers for the customer insights they have. And that is a long and satisfying trip — from knowing what you need is out there somewhere, to being the one that colleagues turn to when they have something that they need to know. Chart source: Forrester Consulting study commissioned by BloomReach. Photo of the cluttered closet by Amy G published under Creative Commons license. Photo of Caitlin Molinari courtesy of Caitlin Molinari. Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at email@example.com ; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.