Levels of incompetence • 17 October 2006 • The SnowBlog

Levels of incompetence

          When I worked in retail (I know, boring, but bear with me) the world was awash with anecdotes (the basic building block of strategic planning in the retailers I worked for) about what could be done with loyalty card data. Frinstance, the old "beer and nappies" story* was hauled out time and again to demonstrate that people shop in interesting ways and therefore the layout of all stores should be changed - for the sixth time that year. 

Bitter invective about my former employers aside, loyalty card data and basket analysis, done properly, are fundamentally useful, statistically significant sources of information about the actual behaviour of your customers - much more robust data than focus groups, for example. 

But in the book world, we're just at the start of this adventure. Waterstone's have been trialling a loyalty card, and the signs are promising - great uptake, interesting data coming through and what appears to be real insight into their customers' behaviour. Amazon, of course, have similarly interesting data and EPOS means all retailers can effectively monitor their customers' habits, preferences and behaviour. 

So maybe now is the time to use this tremendous body of data to revise the ghastly product classification hierarchy that our industry is lumbered with. You can take a look at it here.   Reading it is like reading the minutes of the meeting where every man and his dog must have got together to argue about what should appear. Now I'm an archaeology graduate myself - nothing wrong with it - but how can this one subject merit the following uber-extensive categorisation when general and literary fiction get just three time-based groupings: 

 HD Archaeology 
 HDA Archaeological theory 
 HDD Archaeology by period / region 
 HDDA Prehistoric archaeology 
 HDDC Middle & Near Eastern archaeology 
 HDDF European archaeology 
 HDDJ Asian archaeology 
 HDDL African archaeology 
 HDDN North American archaeology 
 HDDP Central American & Caribbean archaeology 
 HDDS South American archaeology 
 HDDV Australasian & Pacific archaeology 
 HDP Environmental archaeology 
 HDR Underwater archaeology 
 HDT Industrial archaeology 
 HDW Archaeological methodology & techniques 

I think this should be an industry, not a consultant-led exercise - maybe a cross-retailer team could be set up to revise the classifications. Who better? They know how people shop, and with shopper behaviour getting more and more visible it could make a huge difference to the industry. 

*You don't know the 'beer and nappies story'? Oh, man. Pull up a chair. Some bright spark in the loyalty card data department noticed that a lot of baskets contained just two items - beer and nappies. The analyst poked around a bit, asked some questions and discovered that it appeared women were sending their husbands to the supermarket for nappies. Whilst they were there, the men were making a quick detour to the beer aisle to pick up a little something to anaesthetise their poor baby-addled brains. The marketing department decided to act on this insight and ran a trial where they merchandised nappies and beer on the same aisle and lo! Sales tripled. Or quadrupled, or went up by an order of magnitude, or went up by a million percent, depending on when you heard this anecdote and whether it had been sufficiently exaggerated by then.  


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