Reporting: What's Important?

by Gregory Lett

Image of reports with graphs and charts.

As trends in how customers shop continues to shift, the way data is reported changes as well.  With a multitude of channels, both online and off, many retailers can easily find themselves buried in a sea of data.  So how should one wade through the onslaught of reports, graphs, charts, trends and predictions?  The answer may be simpler than you think!  

Look at All the Reports

Take a good hard look at all the reports you receive both in-house and from outside vendors that pertain to your marketing efforts.  Print them out and stack them up and then really look at them.  If you aren’t using all the data, do you really it?  Do you understand which metrics are being reported, why they’re being reported and what makes them important? At the beginning of a relationship, new clients almost always have questions about the reports we send.  Questions are strongly encouraged and typically we schedule a meeting specifically to review the reports together.  If you receive reports that you don’t understand or don’t read, it’s not efficient for anyone’s time. Questions might be about a new metric, or about how it is technically calculated.  Just because you think you know, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask.  For example, you might wonder what designates a site visitor as a “new user”.  Is it someone who has never visited your site before, or is it someone who hasn’t visited your site during the period being reported? Make a point of spending some time with your staff or marketing partner to ask questions.  This will accomplish several things.  Firstly, it will help you understand what is being focused on and why.  Secondly, it will help ensure that you are in fact getting the data reported in a manner that will be most beneficial to you.  This is a good opportunity to ask for changes to the report (although we’re happy to make changes whenever you need them). It’s possible that you may even be able to eliminate certain aspects of the report.  Are you easily able to glance at the report and see what’s important?  Just about anyone can be overloaded by too much data, not to mention that when there’s too much data, even the most important metrics tend to make less of an impact.  Trends may not be apparent, goals may be overlooked, and opportunities may be missed.  This leads to the next point…don’t be afraid of a brief, but focused report.  A scaled back report may very well be more effective in communicating what’s important, thus freeing up your time. If you can glean all the information you need from one page…why do you need four?  You could be better using that time to execute on the actionable data that you were efficiently able to analyze.

Actionable items

Next thing to keep in mind when examining reports, is the data actionable?  Every so often someone will ask us to provide them with real-time reporting for their website.  Real time data can be flashy.  It can be exciting (at least to data nerds like us), but there’s very little chance that it’s useful and much less chance that it’s actionable.  If you are not making decisions in real-time or taking action in real-time, then real-time data isn’t going to move your organization forward. Study your reports, both internal and external.  Think hard about which metrics will provide you with the greatest amount of valuable information in the most efficient amount of time.  Find your “critical few”.  Incorporate them into a dashboard that you can understand at a glimpse.  By the way, there’s almost no good reason to have a dashboard that is longer than one page. With the multitude of marketing channels available these days, budgets can and do wear thin.  Having access to the right data will help stretch a lean budget further because you can see results.

Don’t Sweat the Small…Segments?

Lastly, keep an eye the period of time being reported.  If you are receiving a weekly report, that time frame may be too short of a period to evaluate effectively and recognize an overall trend.  For instance, severe weather tends to have a large, negative impact on ecommerce sales.  After a major storm in the northeast, sales will likely decrease for several days or even a couple of weeks.  It’s dangerous to make a knee-jerk reaction in a situation like this.  Your business probably isn’t headed for disaster…unless you slash your marketing budget and cancel your next catalog drop just based on a few days of decreased sales. Be sure to evaluate enough data and view a long enough period of time to draw accurate conclusions.  Ups and downs happen.  Don’t shoot yourself in the foot because of short-lived fluctuations. In the end, it’s important to spend time getting familiar with your reports and discussing them with the team or vendors that create them.  Ensure your critical few metrics are included and that you’re not focused on inconsequential data.  It’s imperative for you to understand them inside and out in order to drive your business forward.