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Monday, June 24, 2013

Liars figure and figures don't lie

On June 25th of 1889 the statistician Carroll D. Wright gave the opening remarks at a Convention of Commissioners of Bureaus of Statistics of Labor.” The old saying is that “figures will not lie,” but a new saying is “liars will figure.” It is our duty, as practical statisticians, to prevent the liar from figuring; in other words, to prevent him from perverting the truth, in the interest of some theory he wishes to establish. We can only do this by being absolutely fair ourselves.

I see so many numbers being presented these days about what is happening in the retail market and what will be happening in the coming years. I am not saying anyone is wrong or lying, but I am saying people use data to support conclusions. Ten years ago RFID was projected to have taken over the world and most recently QR codes. Has it? I tend to operate by looking at the data, but to also look around at what you see. For example I have seen some big percentages published saying people will go to a store and price check with their smartphone. I have never done this, never seen this or even known anyone who has. I have no doubt it happens but I am suspect to how big of a deal it really is.  It could be me, but I think somebody has a solution trying to find a problem. I do my show rooming on the internet using ratings from hundreds if not thousands of people not getting in my car and driving to Best Buy to gaze at TV screens.  

I do believe there are huge changes happening, but also I believe the market will sort out what works and what does not. It has always been that way and I am not certain numerical predictions in the past made much difference. No one could have imagined the struggling Amazon Company selling books online and losing money for ten years would now dominate retail. Ask yourself why? Jeff Bezos had a vision but also a foundational philosophy he has never wandered from, customer-centricity. Amazon was not about books or even being a Wal-Mart killer. "If there’s one reason we have done better than of our peers in the Internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience, and that really does matter, I think, in any business. It certainly matters online, where word of mouth is so very, very powerful." Amazon was named recently one of the most admired retail companies in the world in by Forbes. Amazon uses “figures” as good as or better than anyone, but the maniacal desire to create a lasting customer experience and to own the lifetime value of their customers is their underpinning. Without that data is just data!

So my point is as a retailer you must inspect your business and clearly understand what you do with and for your customers so that you generate the desired output. All of these numbers being thrown around are great points of information, maybe, but you must carve out you own space and experience. Buying technology for you to match prices to your online competitors in the store for example is a going out of business strategy.

These publications work hard to provide information to help, but they cannot tell you what to do about it. Untold millions of dollars are blown every year by retailers chasing the latest shiny object of the day.  The word of caution is to spend your time and money on the “why” before running off implementing something that may not work for you. Why are you doing something different if you have not completely thought through what that is? The most important changes come from the companies leadership commitments required to change how they are organized and their business value proposition. Technology as is statistics is a tool to help you do the things that make a difference. Let’s make sure we don’t have the “cart before the horse!”


  1. Love what you have to say

    But wow it's visually hard work

    Could I recommend a little white space in your text?