It’s a familiar scene to many returning back to their desks after the New Year’s festivities. The busy period has tailed off and focus now shifts to evaluating the performance of the past few weeks or months. Businesses need to know what went right, and just as crucially what went wrong. Did our campaigns reach the right audiences? Did those interactions translate into sales? Which products drove our top line figures? And which have underperformed?
At the best of times, this is no easy feat. The daunting task is often made harder by short deadlines and an eagerness from management to start using the insights to optimise sales strategy for the January period. It’s no surprise to anyone that under these conditions, we sometimes place a bit of scepticism in the numbers that are first reported. Do they truly reflect the businesses actual performance from first click to last return? Can they be relied upon to get the most out of the new year’s market?
There are several reasons why this is often not the case so let’s look at them individually.
Common New Year’s Headaches
Understanding ‘True’ Performance
Does my ERP data match up to my E-com data? Did our social campaigns have the desired impact on sales? Each system can tell a different story and it’s tough to know which is right without seeing the whole picture. Modern business systems are great at performing their specific roles within the sales process. The problems start to arise when data from these systems need to be combined to get a rounded view of performance.
How do most modern businesses handle this? By manually extracting the data and having to bring it all together in a series of spreadsheets.
We’ve all been there at some point, endless spreadsheet tabs trying to connect different sets of data together. Pivot tables and VLOOKUPs take time to get right, and can be fraught with easily made errors like not locking cell ranges or forgetting the column index starts from 0. Miss them at an early stage and these are then carried through to your final numbers. Double, triple and quadruple checking each row and formula is both time and energy consuming, delaying the process further.
When human input is required, there is always a risk that the final numbers contain some mistakes. Even if there aren’t, the suspicion can always linger, especially if figures are lower than expected.
Gaining valuable, actionable insight in most settings can take a long time to produce. Add the need to combine data sets and wrangle spreadsheets into the mix and seasonal reporting can take days to weeks, taking that insight even further from the point that it occurred. Gaps like this can mean issues go unidentified for much longer than they should.
Is one of your most expensive marketing channels not producing a positive return on ad spend? Are your discount codes costing you more than you were expecting? In situations like these, reaction time can make all the difference. As economic conditions continue to slow around the country, starting the January sales period on the right foot with insight led strategy has never been more important.
Returns after the festive period are always higher than any other time in the year. With the amount of gifting that takes place it’s not a surprise that some stock is being sent back. Each return can make a dent into the otherwise positive figures coming out of your e-commerce system. Have particular channels triggered more returns? Did ads not get their intended message through or land with the audience that you were hoping to target?
Each item returned could potentially have to be sold at a discount in future and risk eroding margin further. Understanding the cause and actioning steps to reduce them as soon as possible is crucial during these times where higher production and shipping costs are already making their impact on the bottom line.
Why The January Period is Important
Maximising Sale Opportunities
The key to maximising your objectives during any sales period is making sure you target the right product to the right person at the right time. Objectives like stock clearance or minimising margin erosion all require a solid understanding of your customer. Understanding sensitivity to price reductions vs. their propensity to return is crucial. If you’re selling at a discount you want to be as sure as possible that the product won’t be returned.
Target customers who you know hold on to products and giving them priority access to new products is always a great way to build a relationship. This frees up your best discounts for the more reluctant customers. A word of caution though, avoid promoting a specific product discount to someone who bought at full price, as this will likely have the opposite effect.
What is left in stock and why? Can you target cross sell this stock to audiences based on look-a-like behaviours and previous purchase patterns? Do you have customer feedback to shed a light on why some products are being returned at a higher rate? Do you need to change the description on your website to minimise the next round of returns?
Finally, it’s likely that you’ll have a specific segment who LOVE a bargain. If you’re wanting to clear the end of line stock, these are the people you target – a discount code to the right customers can work magic.
Understanding Your Audience
Are you targeting the right people with your promotions? Marketing spend put in the wrong place or at the wrong time is costly with bad implications for the rest of the year. As budgets are being reduced in response to slowing consumer demand, it’s vital that any marketing activity is well placed and timely to have the desired impact of boosting sales.
Are your premium products being put in front of a higher affluence audience? Is your messaging in line with the lifestyle characteristics of those receiving it? These factors and more can all make a difference on click through rates, time spent on site, and ultimately their decision to make a purchase. The more informed you can be on who your customer base is, the greater the chance of a successful start to the year.
Who are your best customers? These might not be the ones who have the biggest basket spend! Who buys with regularity, with minimal returns? Who is driving your profit margins? By analysing your sales data and using effective segmentation, you can remove the guesswork from marketing and maximise ROI on your campaigns.
Speed To Decision
In challenging months for retail like January, the ability to act fast can make all the difference in maximising sales and ROI. If you’re starting to plan two weeks in, valuable re-purchasing opportunities can be long gone by the time any actions are taken. Customer’s that may not have ‘returned and churned’ after the Christmas period could have been re-targeted with more appealing products and retained.
With the cost-of-living crisis showing no sign of letting up any time soon, being able to capitalise on insight as fast as possible into the year is going to be crucial.
Making January Reporting Easy
Considering all these challenges, what features should a data platform have to help techies and non-techies alike, empowering organisations to give their teams the tools they need to get the most out of their data without having to deal with the manual processes that go alongside them?
Single Source of Truth
Your data platform needs to ingest data from all your systems so it’s stored in a fully-managed and easily accessible location. Mapping to a common data model means easy access to like-for-like reporting and removing the need for time consuming spreadsheets and VLOOKUPs gives you a complete joined up overview of your business all in one place.
With all the work taken out of producing reports, it gives you the chance to make those critical start of year decisions better and earlier.
Single View of a Customer
A customer matching feature helps create trust in your figures. No in system duplications over inflating your ‘new customer’ numbers and resolution between systems mean you have a complete 360-degree view of your customers.
Each one of these systems provides ‘core’ information about the people buying from you. Whether it’s how they are responding to marketing, the purchases or returns they have made, or the interactions with the service team, this view gives marketing teams access to the data they need to create highly targeted, data-driven campaigns.
A common data model means the platform can do the work - so you don’t have to. No more spreadsheets or manual reporting. The ability to log in on January first and see all of your trading and marketing performance statistics waiting for you. Compare that to another period? No problem. Dive deeper into product category or SKU performance? Taken care of.
Get answers to questions within minutes, not days, allowing you to make those crucial business decisions faster. Look out for strong and clear visualisations and pre-configured insights, putting you on the front foot to maximise performance when it’s needed and not after.
Next Level Insights
Are you attracting the type of customers you have been targeting? Does your Data Platform allow you to dive deeper into who your customers are, what kind of lifestyles they live and measures on their affluence?
Look for built in customer segmentation, as well as machine learning models to determine the likelihood of a return purchase, to put you on the front foot when it comes to forecasting the coming year’s performance.
Overall, your Data Platform needs to allow you to dive deeper into your sales figures and understand where your business performed strongly, and where it didn't hold up so well. Hopefully, you can extend this analysis even further down to the category or SKU level, unlocking actionable insight that may have otherwise taken days.
Don’t Let January Reporting Get You Down
Here at the Data Refinery, we know how New Year reporting and planning, though vital, can be a headache at the best of times. That’s why we are here to help, removing those manual and time-consuming tasks, providing insight with just a few clicks and letting you get back to the real work that makes your business so great.