Is Data Killing Retail?

The bean counters have taken over the asylum.

Data is the best and the worst of today’s retail. Don’t get me wrong- we love data. Access to customer data and demographics, purchasing patterns, psychographics, mosaics and so forth are perhaps the most important advances in retail over the past decade. It gives us insight and helps us to make quality decisions. But that decision, when based on data alone, is not necessarily market-leading decisions. They can only tell us facts; they cannot help us with vision. 

A pivotal example is the rise of the smartphone. There was no data to suggest that the smartphone we know today would become a necessity in today’s world. Consumers were quite happy with the Nokia, Motorola’s and Blackberry’s. Data told us which ones were bought, where and by whom. Data also told us about magic price points. But data did not tell us how a phone could become an optical camera, an instant social connecter across the globe, a meditation device, and a tool to make payments in shops. That is what a visionary saw.

In today’s modern world – which is controlled and fulfilled by data – Buyers and Product Developers are even more time poor than ever. The stress to maximise productivity from a set of controlled data points results in fewer risks taken to allow for crucial KPI’s to be achieved.

Data also smothers creativity and vision. Take the demise of 88-year old department store BHS for example, shoppers’ tastes shifted whilst BHS’s designs and creativity stayed the same. Managing and monitoring data is safe and time consuming, but it is an external reference point. This is why products all look the same, taste the same, and are now boring everyone the same. 

As consumers strive for authenticity and unique products, it is doubtful that data can create such an innovative and thoughtful creation alone. Imagination and vision are the results of time, reflection and dreaming – these are essential for creativity. 

In a world of homogenisation, the ones who are creating exceptional creative products, are small businesses, artisans and home-based ventures, whom all lack the data. Go figure…

Just imagine what wonderful commercial creativity could be harnessed if data, imagination and dreaming were able to dance together.

When it comes to forecasting interior lifestyle trends, I am passionate that our team should always balance data with imagination and dreaming – It’s where the magic is.

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