December 15, 2013


A definition of "clarity" is "clearness of thought or style, lucidity".

MineThatData is nearly seven years old ... the blog, nearly eight years old. If you go back and read the old stuff, you'll see a lot of disjointed thoughts, random observations, and an overall lack of clarity.

Time, experience, practice, and 100+ clients providing data help one achieve clarity.

There were signs, of course. Images. Stuff like this, from 2008 - look at what the co-hosts are using for information:

Or this:

Those two images led me to my ladies:


That's Judy, Jennifer, and Jasmine for those of you who are not familiar with my content.

The pieces started to fit together.
  1. I analyzed a Judy-centric business that, if you stopped mailing catalogs, would cease to exist. And social media was meaningless, to boot.
  2. I analyzed a Jennifer-centric business that, if you stopped mailing catalogs, would barely notice the difference. I lived this experience at Nordstrom, too - and it was fascinating how many experts told me that my experiences "didn't count". Funny - I experienced a Jennifer-focused transition, but my experiences "didn't count" according to some who did not have a comparable experience.
  3. A Jasmine-centric business leader shared that 50% of traffic came from Facebook and Twitter, and now generates 35%+ of traffic from mobile.
A ton of client data validates generational observations. It became clear why a cataloger in Vermont couldn't possibly hope to "pivot" to a social/mobile model. It became clear that print was utterly irrelevant to Jasmine, when she could obtain every single piece of information ever digitized for under $3 a day on a magic device held in her hand.

And it became obvious that Amazon put a moat around Jennifer, and in the process, captured more than 25% of e-commerce.

We're not going to be able to reverse these trends.

At a conference in 2012, a representative of the USPS asked me, "how do we train Jasmine to love direct mail?"

We won't train Jasmine to love direct mail. Jasmine will train us about what the future holds. And she holds the future ... in her hand, using a five inch screen.

That's what lead me toward Merchandise Forensics. How the heck do you sell anything on a five inch screen? Next thing you know, 18 of 22 Merchandise Forensics projects illustrate the impact that email marketing, and paid search, and social, and mobile have on the merchandise assortment. It's not positive.
  • Catalogs expand the merchandise assortment.
  • Your home page expands the merchandise assortment.
  • Email marketing contracts the merchandise assortment.
  • Paid Search contracts the merchandise assortment.
  • Social Media contracts the merchandise assortment.
  • Mobile dramatically constrains the merchandise assortment.
The economy caused folks to contract the merchandise assortment - fewer pages circulated - best sellers featured in marketing campaigns. Too few new items were offered, and even fewer became best sellers. In catalog marketing, this dynamic interacted with the best practice of using co-ops for customer acquisition activities, yielding older Baby Boomers buying best sellers that are attractive to older Baby Boomers. The dynamic resulted in an old customer base that liked fewer products, preferring products that appealed to older customers, rapidly aging catalog brands. Not good, and almost nobody will talk about the issue publicly. Catalogers can expect -2% to -3% merchandise productivity, per year, should the customer continue to age at the rate of the past decade.

This self-fulfilling prophesy is leading catalogers to a cliff that the USPS is going to help push catalogers over. Catalogers now have two choices. Both are painful.
  1. Ride the Baby Boomer generation into retirement, generate a ton of five-year profit, but grow increasingly frustrated with declining merchandise productivity and increased USPS costs.
  2. Pivot to a younger customer, using marketing tactics and a merchandise assortment not friendly to catalog marketers, losing a ton of profit during the transition (maybe losing too much profit).
It's going to be hard to pivot to a younger customer. Amazon and retailers are putting a moat around urban customers, with free same-day delivery and the lowest possible prices both coming in the short-term.

And it's going to be hard to sell on mobile devices. Five inches. Mobile is not e-commerce. E-commerce is about selling everything. Mobile is about filtering everything out. E-commerce and Mobile selling skills are not complementary - not even close.

A generation of e-commerce gurus face two challenges.
  1. How to sell on a small, limited device (five inches), when two decades have been spent figuring out how to sell on a large screen with an unlimited assortment?
  2. How to appeal to Jasmine, when two decades have been spent learning how to appeal to Jennifer?
And retailers face comparable challenges.
  1. Why should a customer get in a car, and drive twenty minutes to a mall-based location when every piece of worldly information has been digitized, and is available on a mobile device for under $3 a day?
  2. How does a retailer, desperate to maintain store comps, stay afloat when everybody is offering ginormous discounts and promotions to capture an ever-decreasing amount of retail traffic? And why buy from a physical store when Amazon will eventually get you merchandise in hours?
Clarity. We're finally here!
  • Catalogers get to pick their poison.
  • E-commerce folks, who grew by cutting Jennifer out of catalog businesses, are now about to be locked-out by mobile/social, channels that appeal to Jasmine. By the way, if you tell an e-commerce leader this observation, they'll spit in your face! Not literally, of course. But they don't see it the same way outsiders see it.
  • Retail is at a major inflection point - with no proof that digitizing the entire in-store experience results in anything other than keeping the ship afloat, at best.
Once you have clarity, once you realize (by analyzing data) that generational differences are driving channel use, once you realize that demographics and channels and new merchandise introductions are significantly impacting merchandise productivity, then you have a road map to guide you into the future.

Contact me ( for an analysis that allows you to understand your road map into the future.