Wouldn’t you love to click on a story with that kind of headline and find a one-word answer: Nothing.
Yeah, the, “What ‘X’ can learn from ‘Y,’” construct is a pretty tired concept. But hear me out. The San Francisco Giants take on the New York Mets in a winner-takes-all, loser-goes-home wild-card playoff game tonight that will propel one team, one step closer to baseball’s World Series.
And veteran Mercury News sports columnist Mark Purdy likes the Giants’ chances. What’s the source of this confidence? All-star catcher Buster Posey. Well, and, hall-of-fame-bound manager Bruce Bochy. And the way the two use easily accessible and actionable data.
But not just data. The secret behind Bochy’s, Posey’s and the Giants’ success is the way they combine data and gut; science and art; the machine and the human.
It’s what modern merchandising is all about, or should be all about. No doubt, successful site merchandisers know their art — their brand’s story, their customers’ likes and dislikes, the emotional connection consumers have with brands, products and even shopping itself.
But they’ve struggled getting their hands on the data they need. Only 37 percent of merchandisers surveyed by Forrester on BloomReach’s behalf said they strongly agreed that they had access to the data they need to make key decisions.
And, not surprisingly, that lack of vision leaves merchandisers’ teammates — namely marketers — with little confidence in merchandisers’ ability to provide useful insights into customers.
Baseball, that timeless game, offers lessons and a strong argument for better outfitting merchandisers with the tools and data they need.
From Purdy’s column about the Giants’ 2016 foray into the postseason:
“Every team has piles of numbers and statistics to ponder before a series begins — or in a single-game winner-take-all situation, such as Wednesday. The Giants leave a printout of their opposition scouting report at every locker. There is also a players-only website they can consult to call up granular stats on every pitcher or batter. Posey can look at the site to see which pitches an opposing batter most frequently swings at and misses. He can dial up video of every at-bat an opponent has had against Madison Bumgarner or any other Giants’ pitcher.”
And what does Posey do with these buckets and buckets of data? Again, from Purdy:
“But in 2014, I learned from Posey and other Giants that while he consults all of the information, he takes it to the field and selectively ignores it. Posey will respond to what he’s feeling in the moment — from his own pitcher, opposing batters, umpires, even the weather conditions.”
Art and science. You hear it again and again from top merchandisers. And while the art, like baseball, is timeless, the science moves forward at an increasingly dizzying pace.
Laura Freedman, who worked as a merchant before launching the e-tailing group in 1993, talked to me about the changes for an earlier story.
“When I started out, there was no data,” she said. “You just had to understand it. But I think having the data helps: What gets positioned where; What gets shown first. And then you can use it in your favor.”
Most merchandisers would no doubt agree that data is invaluable, but it works best when paired with their instinct, knowledge and understanding of human nature.
It’s a winning combination — and no doubt a combination that retailers will want to have at the ready as they enter the crucial holiday shopping season. In fact, you could argue that the holiday period is retailers’ post-season: a winner-take-all, loser-go-home contest that can make or break a franchise.
Photos by Mike Cassidy
Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.