I was recently having some discussions with several merchants and their accounting and financial consultants/analysts about the numbers with which they run their business and the importance of those numbers. In the course of the conversations I made some observations that I wanted to share.
Understanding the Data
When using tools to gather numbers, like an order management system, and referring to reports, try to find out how the numbers are gathered and displayed. Different systems track things in different ways, and if you use a third party product that provides the reports, there is no guarantee they correctly pulled those numbers from the data the system stored.
I have seen this happen a couple of times and had been involved in correcting the developers. If the application’s company doesn’t provide detailed documents on the reports, contact them and have a discussion with a support rep that is knowledgeable and able to answer your questions. You’re running your business from these numbers, so you have to know you’re interpreting them correctly.
If and when you do reach someone at the company who knows enough about the reports to discuss them with you in depth, do not tell them they’re wrong and they need to change the report. There are a couple of reasons for this. The company developed the data and made decisions on how to store it. This affects reporting and some things can and cannot be done without significant changes. A polite request for a new report showing the data in a different way will usually be received a lot better than coming off as if you know more about the data than the company that developed the software. Also, just because the data is shown in a different way, does not mean it’s incorrect. I’ve found that a lot of reporting and the interpretation of the numbers is a matter of perspective and different merchants do like to see the data presented in different ways.
Third Party Developers
Many times the companies just won’t have the resources to accommodate every request like this though. Then comes the third party developers who specifically focus on this. There are two types of third parties. One is the third party developer who specializes in reporting for a specific piece of software. They make an extensive array of reports and dashboards to sell to merchants in some way and market themselves as experts in that software and how the data is stored.
The second is the kind of third party that tries to generalize. They usually specify certain data points they want to have access to and either the merchant or the merchant’s IT staff have to provide the third party with the connection to the data in the form that the third party wants. They tend to expect the other companies to transform their data into the acceptable format, or a merchant can sometimes hire a developer for the job if the software exposes the data in some way.
Tools for Merchants
One such company is Custora. Custora tends to provide merchants with analytics focused on marketing. This allows merchants to determine trends and better focus on giving their customers items that are more likely to get them to come shop again at their site. They look at what customers buy and how frequently, among other things.
Another popular metrics tool for merchants is Google Analytics. This set of metrics helps merchants determine where their website’s traffic comes from, so they can make decisions on keywords to focus on and how to build links and provide relevant content and items that will cause their site to come up for their intended customers more frequently.
RJMetrics is another company that is similar to Custora, but it is able to perform more customizations for merchants to their dashboards and reports.
Metrics are important for any merchant to pay attention to in order to effectively grow their business. It gives the information necessary from raw data for merchants to make decisions based on facts. How do you use metrics to run your business? What tools have you tried?
This post was originally featured on June 19, 2013.