Thinking about retail reporting

Today I’ve been thinking about retail reporting and trying to conceptualise an approach that demonstrates how separate from the Product Catalogue the Reporting Suite should be, even though they may share a lot of the same data.

The fundamental unit of reporting is the transaction. Whereas the fundamental unit in the product catalogue is the product, which is a physical object, in reporting a transaction is ‘an action that occurred at a point in time’. Reports are a snapshot of a point in time that shows related transactions grouped together.

The product catalogue has a hierarchical structure of units of product with depth added to the structure via attributes. The reporting suite uses a network model with nodes and connections. Generating reports is a case of selecting the nodes for that report, e.g. Refunds and Area, and then defining the connection, e.g. Last trading week. The nodes are fixed and the connections are variable.

Nodes

Transaction Type

  • Purchase
  • Refund
  • Replacement/exchange
  • Return
  • Movement

Transaction Location

  • Display
  • Store
  • Facia
  • Area
  • Region

Transaction Content/Quantities

  • Product
  • Quantity
  • Value
  • Margin
  • Budget
  • Category
  • Department
  • Season

The more nodes selected the finer level of reporting is achieved, e.g. The margin achieved by a single product in a single area. And the fewer nodes selected the courser the report, e.g. All purchases in all departments.

Connections

Current time frame

  • Day
  • Week
  • Month
  • Year

Comparison time frame

  • This week vs. Last week.
  • This year to date vs. Last year to date.

Selecting the connection between the nodes provides the window through which to view the snapshot of the state of the system at the point the report was generated. A report with the same nodes and same connections generated at a different time could show a different view as the state may have changed through transactions such as returned items.

I took the John Lewis website survey

And this is what I thought about it…

Providing some good information at the start to give me confidence that my data won't be used in ways I might not want. And telling me that the survey will only
Providing some good information at the start to give me confidence that my data won’t be used in ways I might not want. And telling me that the survey will only
Does any website really make someone feel Excited, Hopeful or Delighted?
Does any website really make someone feel Excited, Hopeful or Delighted?
Do they really need to ask this in a survey? Isn't this what analytics are for?
Do they really need to ask this in a survey? Isn’t this what analytics are for?
Again, something analytics would tell them.
Again, something analytics would tell them.
Only 41% of the way through the survey and this page hits you with an overwhelming sixteen multiple choice questions and a free text box. I bet a lot of the participants drop off at this stage.
Only 41% of the way through the survey and this page hits you with an overwhelming sixteen multiple choice questions and a free text box. I bet a lot of the participants drop off at this stage.
For a retailer, I think understanding a customer's gender, age, and martial status for customers can help with creating personas so I can see the benefit of collecting this information.
For a retailer, I think understanding a customer’s gender, age, and martial status for customers can help with creating personas so I can see the benefit of collecting this information.
This seems like a good question to understand the buying behaviour and extended journey a customer takes before visiting the John Lewis website.
This seems like a good question to understand the buying behaviour and extended journey a customer takes before visiting the John Lewis website.
And just when you thought you had finished, one more question.
And just when you thought you had finished, one more question.


Survey complete, but the thank you message seems a bit dry and emotionless. I’ve just told you all kinds of personal details about where I live, how old I am, whether I have kids, how I shop and what I think about John Lewis, and all you can say is ‘Your input is greatly appreciated’. No reward, e.g. a discount code or prioritising my order to delivery more quickly. No telling me how all the information I’ve given you is going to help you offer a better service or improve your website. And no reiterating that my data is safe with you, that the cookie will expire.

Conclusion

It’s a very long and complicated survey with a huge range of questions asking for very different information in lots of different ways. I found it a bit confusing and not really offering any value to the customer.

“I can’t do that” shouldn’t be part of the vocabulary of a multichannel business.

Next tried to deliver a rug to a neighbour who wasn’t in so the delivery driver asked as to take it in. Then the neighbour moved house and never collected the rug. We could have got ourselves a nice new rug for free and that could have been the end of it.

Instead we called Next customer services who couldn’t find any order information and asked us to return the rug to a store. We did so and explained the situation to the shop assistant. The shop assistant asked us to wait while she went off to speak to the manager. After a couple of minutes she came back and suggested that they’d take the rug, hold it in store and contact the customer and refund them if they didn’t collect it. We said that was fine, and could she write a note saying that the rug had been returned so that if the customer came back looking for their rug we had proof that we hadn’t kept it.

She said that she couldn’t do that and that the customer would get a refund and so we could ask them to check their bank statement to see the refund. I explained that that wouldn’t provide us with any proof and that the customer could still choose to claim that we stole their rug regardless of what their bank statement said.

She tried calling Customer Services to get more information but after another ten minutes of waiting I had to have a more forceful chat with her to make the point that we’re doing them a favour by returning the rug and that all we want is for her to write on the delivery note that we’ve returned the rug to the store.

She seemed unable to accept that we wanted some proof that we’d returned it to store. I even offered to take the rug to a different store or explain the situation to the manager if that made it easier for her, and eventually she agreed to do as I asked.

Multichannel channel is a challenge for any business. And most businesses understandably approach it from the system point of view when really a good multichannel channel strategy needs to start with the needs of the customer, and then empower the front line staff to meet those needs effectively. “I can’t do that” shouldn’t be part of the vocabulary of a multichannel business.